Can Newspaper win Local News Web Battle ?

Can Newspapers dominate the local Web? Will newspapers retain their leading position in the local online news space? Can another local media entity or pure-play take a successful run at them, or will an outsider like Facebook, ACprimetime.com or Google come in for the kill?

As an example of the turmoil and uncertainty being faced by the Newspaper industry, Merrill Lynch recently sold off its stake in the New York Times. They were the second largest shareholder in the Old Gray Lady.

How can Newspaper retain the position of ‘King of Local Online Media’? Let’s use some SWOT analysis; strength, weakness, opportunity and threat…… to see where Newspaper currently fits into the Web 2.0 landscape.

>> Strength
Writing, journalism, and photography. Strong relationships with media buyers. Trusted brand names. Big head start on TV and Radio, with their online efforts. Usually the biggest, local websites in a market, still getting the lion’s share of advertising.

>> Weakness
Circulation declining faster than originally predicted. Legacy culture. Pure plays like Monster, Craigslist, and Cars.com, pummeling the #1 source of revenue; classifieds. Hard costs that are variable and usually rising: gas for delivery vehicles, newsprint, ink, staffing requirements, healthcare. huge infrastructure of printing presses, physical plant, and office buildings.

>> Opportunity
Reinvigorate their business. Leverage hyper-local advantages. Tap fast growing online marketing dollars. Move into the explosive video/database/social networking space. Aggregate, enable, and moentize local bloggers. Fill content holes not being adequetly served by building new niche content sites. Steal share from TV and Radio.

>> Threat
News moving quickly towards becoming a commodity. Google, Facebook, pure plays like ACprimetime.com and bloggers gaining ground. Competitors now have lower barriers to entry, and are not encumbered by the legacy costs and culture of Newspapers.

What should Newspaper do to protect and grow their dominant position ?

  • Aggregate, enable and monetize the local blogosphere.
  • Develop a network of niche content sites, not being adequately served by mainstream media.
  • Accelerate move into video and other multi-media. ( Don’t steal ideas from TV ! )
  • Offer robust local search for users and advertisers.
  • Provide easy and inexpensive, online marketing solutions for small businesses.
  • Tap local/regional databases, and put into user friendly form.
  • Stop just being “the newspaper online”. Instead, become the #1 online source for news/info for your community.
  • Create 2-way discussion with readers.
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3 thoughts on “Can Newspaper win Local News Web Battle ?”

  1. Local newspapers can still survive if they execute their online extension of their print property in the right manner. And quite frankly, they should hire an outside expert/consultant to complete that task. They are now entering a world that is completely unfamiliar to them and only an expert in the field who stays abreast of the latest technology trends can help them do that.

    But, one key component that you didn’t mention that I wanted to touch upon is that you can clean up site, offer blogging pages, video clips, etc. However, if you have a sales force originally from the print side and you move them to online sales – you are dead in the water! Online ads are no longer just banners stuck at the top and bottoms of pages. If local newspapers want to continue to thrive they will need innovative, tech savvy sales people to get the job done. That will consist of hiring an interactive sales consultant or hiring .com sales reps with online selling experience.

  2. Sharp post.

    I like the detailed outline of what newspapers can do to compete.

    I am still, however, unconvinced that newspapers can dominate the local media landscape by following those steps, unless they do one thing you didn’t mention:

    Build a community platform to which their users can contribute as much as they do.

    In other words, open up.

    The Web is a decentralized, interactive medium. Newspapers are not.

    The successful, Web 2.0 sites are ones that have leveraged that characteristic of the medium, building a platform upon which users/readers/viewers can create value.

    I believe newspapers can do that, too. But it’s a radical shift from their roots, involving a considerable amount of institutional inertia and (valid) concern over upholding journalistic standards.

    I agree with Trish Nebel on the importance of bringing in outside consultants, but is that enough?

    Your take…?

  3. Matt,
    You make some valid points. Coming from both sides of the table, the agency side and now interactive sales, I can tell you the only time I would put a local newspaper website on a media plan is if it was done properly and it was within the “bucket or vertical” the client was looking to reach. But, I would never rely on that being the only buy on a media plan. You have to be smart and include niche sites to ensure you’ve covered all your bases.

    If anything, as a Brand Manager, I would be more leery allocating my online dollars to ad portals and networks for the fear that I don’t know where my ads are really running and who are seeing them. So, many inexperienced media planners go for “reach” which is ridiculous if you are not reaching the right audience. If a client is looking to have a very, specific geo-targeted campaign, I would recommend a well-done local newspaper site and niche sites that have geo-targeting capabilities.

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