Newspapers Had Plenty of Warning. Could Have Been Local Online Powerhouses

2009 Newspaper Conference in Hershey, Pa.. Rosenblum, Taylor & Potts.
2009 Newspaper Conference in Hershey, Pa.. Rosenblum, Taylor & Potts.

Back in 2009, I was invited to moderate a panel at a newspaper conference in Hershey, Pa.

The session was called: Best Practices of Successful Local Media Companies.

For the panel. I picked 2 of the leading voices in hyper-local news at the time. One was Michael Rosenblum, an un-filtered, tough love kinda guy. Best known for his VJ work….video journalism. A true pioneer that pushed early for media companies to wake up before it was too late.

My other guest was Mark Potts, a newspaper vet who was also very early in advocating for newspapers to evolve, or die.

VIDEO: Mel Taylor interviews Michael Rosenblum. Can newspaper win in the digital age?

Here’s what Rosenblum wrote on his blog, soon after his appearance on my panel called Best Practices of Successful Local Media Companies:

Many years, ago, when I was a kid at camp, we used to take a field trip to the Hershey Chocolate Factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

To this day I can still remember the giant vats of chocolate and the heavy chocolate aroma that permeated the whole place.

When you left, they gave you a free Hershey bar.

Yesterday, at the invitation of Mel Taylor, I was invited to speak at America East, a gathering of east coast newspapers.

It was not, despite the location at the Hershey Lodge, sweet.

Newspapers are clearly in trouble.

They know it, but they don’t know what to do about it.

One very clear indication of the trouble newspapers are in was that almost no one in the conference room in which I spoke either had a laptop open or was online. And you can forget about twittering.

When I went to the conference organizers to ask how to get online in the conference room, I was told that online was free in the lobby.

I said that I didn’t want to be online in the lobby, I wanted to be online in the conference room. This was clearly a problem. I told them I was a speaker, and showed my badge with the gold trim and red ribbon!

This was clearly a serious problem.

Someone called someone on the walkie-talkie, who then called on the desk phone, who then called someone else, who explained the situation who then gave me a secret code of many letter and numbers.

If this is what it takes to get online in the conference room at the Newspaper Assocation gathering, I don’t think its hard to figure out the basic problem with newspapers.

Many years ago, when I was President of New York Times TV, Martin Nisenholtz was just starting At that time, Joe Lelyveld, then editor of the newspaper announced that nothing could be published on the paper’s website until it had already been published in the physical newspaper.

It took years to clear this up.

The newspaper people didn’t get it then, and they don’t really get it now.

What they don’t get is that they are sitting on top of a goldmine, but one they refuse to mine.

Local newspapers are complex machines designed to gather, curate and process information in their communities. They know the towns, they know the players and they know what is happening.

This information has a value – but a value that is not going to be found in either the printed paper or the website.

And the information isn’t necessarily news about a local fire or the town school board meeting.

It is more likely information about local restaurants or stores.

Marry that kind of information to a GPS and run it through a phone (about to become the next explosive market in screenworld, occupying 12% of our time), and you’ve got something worth a fortune.

Wanna know what good restaurants are nearby? Photos? Text? Video?

Who knows this better than the local paper?

Who needs this information more than ATT or Verizon as they compete for eyeballs?

Papers could own this. They could.

But they most likely won’t.

Like Craig Newmark, someone else is going to come along and steal what should belong to the papers – a whole new revenue stream that has nothing to do with paper or the paper’s website.

It won’t happen because ad sales people at the paper don’t think that way.

Which is too bad. Because the newspapers are sitting on information every day that is worth a fortune.

But someone else is going to take it away from them.

Like taking candy… or a Hershey bar… from a baby

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