Contrary to popular belief, newspapers are poised for the
most dynamic comeback in their long history. Amongst the doom and gloom it’s
easy to forget that more people than ever before are reading newspapers. It’s
just the how that’s changed. In fact, globally more people read newspapers than use the
The newspaper industry has always been cyclical but recently
there has been a cultural shift among the players. It may have something to do
with the changing of the old guard.Whatever’s causing it, I believe there are some key steps newspapers
need to take to preserve their role as champions of news.
They need to collaborate, they need to hire good journalists,
they need to embrace the mobile generation and they need to make digital profitable. By doing this—and they are well on their way—newspapers will
emerge stronger from their current circulation woes and enter 2020 as a leaner,
more valued and trusted medium than at any time in the past 50 years.
It makes sense to pool resources. It may seem anathema to print
media, but as the world becomes more global it makes sense for newspapers, TV
and radio to work together. Foreign bureaux are a great example. They’re exceedingly
costly to maintain but a source of great content, they’re a natural candidate
for collaboration across platforms. It’s already happening: TVNZ’s Jack Tame
reports regularly from the US on NewsTalk ZB’s breakfast show.
Competitors need to join forces, investing in innovation and
sharing expertise. Currently the print news market looks more like a race to bottom
with editorial cost cutting too often the knee-jerk solution. Increasing
syndicated content and learning from each other’s inevitable trials and errors
will help grow the print news pie instead of scrapping over the diminishing
Good journalism will become more important than ever. Sadly,
everyone thinks they’re a journalist now. Objectivity in social media “news” can
rarely be guaranteed. But newspapers
have built brands over many years and they are trusted brands and they need to
take advantage of that in-built trust.
Newspapers can exploit their position as a trusted news
source versus the doubt inherent in other online spaces—as endorsement for
advertisers and as a trusted news source for consumers.
Newspaper sites are using more video and as a result
journalists will be empowered to produce content across all platforms. In that
sense, good journalists worth their wage will need to write, film, edit and
even broadcast content.
Nearly nine in ten Americans carries a mobile phone. And yet
only a third of Americans access the internet using their phones. As mobile
news consumption grows, there are huge opportunities for newspapers to develop
ways of reaching out to mobile phone users. How about click on a headline and
go to our online video?
Of course, this also leads them directly to other online
newspaper content, so readership increases and advertisers respond.
Make digital profitable
First, inherently it’s more profitable because there are no
paper costs, distribution costs, news agents or paper boys. You can target and
track more effectively, create communities and, most importantly, gather data. And because newspapers—or should I say news companies—have the best content in a medium where content is king, they need to monetise
that content. Catering to niche audiences to drive revenue is one way – the
Wall Street Journal’s WSJ Pro, CFO Journal and CIO Journal come to mind.
Monetising online or even print data is another way. Papers
need to be able to analyse their data to create niches which they can then
market to. For example, those who read the online travel pages are interested
in travel. This data is of value to travel companies and airlines, which creates an opportunity to forge mutually beneficial relationships with businesses in those
Newspapers have a bright future. They attract some of the
globe’s brightest people, they are trusted brands, respected and well-liked by
consumers. The need for media as a provocative fourth estate has never been
greater and there will always be a market for brands that continue to deliver quality content.
Despite the doomsayers there are ways for papers to monetise
their assets. It won’t be a one size fits all solution and some will fail to
adapt. But good papers engender trust, and trust enables risk taking and diversification
onto different platforms.
These are the challenges newspapers face. How they adapt to
those challenges is going to be fascinating to watch.
- Born in 1966, Peter Thomson grew up surrounded by newspapers.
His father was in the newspaper printing business and over the years his
newspaper reading became a habit. He turned this love of print into M2M, a successful media agency targeting the luxury, fashion and beauty niche, which, when he left in 2012 had offices in 26 countries around the world and US$550m revenue. M2M was
an early adopter of the new free newspapers in the UK.