Newspapers (“old media”) are, as a class, behind in the online world. (They’re not alone in this.) It’s no secret: check out these sources:
I’ll admit, it’s nice to hold an actual paper in my hands beside my morning coffee. It’s not the same to go online and RSS the topics I’m interested in. However, too many newspapers have only the barest online presence.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: The state’s largest newspaper. I’ve found two regular items (so far) that are in the print edition and aren’t online. The ever-popular In the News (in the left column of each day’s front page, and the weekly menu planner, which appears on page 2 of each Wednesday’s Food section. In particular it would be nice for the menu planner to be available online. What if we recycle our subscription at the end of each day, but I’m behind on setting my menu for the week? Too late. Even with a subscription to the hard copy, this content is not available online. That’s a no-no.
Another problem: The paper’s photos aren’t online. It has a “replica” version of the paper, but you can’t make it big enough onscreen to read without a subscription to the print edition, and you can’t link to any of its content.
Even the advertising portions of the Democrat-Gazette family publications are outmoded: My husband requested an ad he was placing in the Siloam Springs Herald-Leader be placed online, and it was not a possibility. At the very least, newspapers should be utilizing this method of potential new revenue.
Another hurdle newspapers face in having viable websites is the dated nature of their content. Newspapers should have, at the least, blogs on their sites, so they don’t have to be behind all other media when news breaks.
Newspapers will always own the in-depth corner of the news-coverage market. Newspapers are also usually best at separating opinion from analysis from straight news. They’re also hard to beat when it comes to small markets’ local coverage.
They need to read the plummeting subscription (and advertising revenue) writing on the wall and take a hard look at the online world — which is here to stay — and answer the tough questions. Should content be available to registered members only? What are the trade-offs involved in that decision? How should an online edition be paid for? Should be merely prop up the tactile product or should an online edition offer exclusive content?
Yes, they’re tough questions, but they must be answered. Perhaps part of the problem is newspapers’ old, techno-phobic leadership. Younger members of newspaper staff should be included in these discussions, since they’re more aware of the internet as a whole. It’s possible that each individual newspaper will reach a different end result after answering the hard questions. There may not be right and wrong answers, but ignoring the internet is a definite wrong answer.
These considerations are important to me, since I’ve worked in the newspaper industry and I enjoy newspapers. But my subscriptions are in the process of running out, and I’m not renewing. I like knowing what’s going on around me. I want to be informed. But I honestly don’t know if I’ll visit the existing area newspaper websites, or if I’ll just go without knowledge of local goings-on. The available newspaper websites aren’t friendly. Newspapers shouldn’t consider that a viable option, but I know plenty of area residents in the same situation.