Monday, April 20, 2009

Sweating the big stuff

Monday mornings can be tough in the best of circumstances, but I compounded things this morning by watching the farewell videos from the Rocky and the P-I. I had seen parts of both when they were originally posted, but had never taken the time to watch all the way through. (The Rocky's, in particular, requires a significant investment of time.) Viewing them back-to-back now left me feeling anxious and sad. And this, too: A feeling somewhere between panic and determination to do more to help turn this thing around.

I'm fortunate to be part of a news operation that is, relatively speaking, still healthy. And I'm even more fortunate to be in a position to launch and help steer initiatives at that news operation. On a day the Pulitzers came out recognizing the industry's best work, there should be plenty to be optimistic about.

Yet here I sit feeling nervous and jittery and wondering if the dozen small-scale initiatives I've helped get off the ground in recent months will amount to more than searching for change under the furniture cushions while the house burns down around us.

So, to make myself feel better if nothing else, I jotted down a list of the big-ticket items we could attempt to solve. What, if we could accomplish them, would go a long way toward finding a stable business model going forward? Here goes:

* Redefining classified ads, which until a decade ago made up as much as one-third of the revenue at many big newspapers. Building a better Craigslist is a good place to start, but the initiative is ultimately bigger than that.

* Using smart advertising software that knows what you're reading when you're within our architecture and tailors the advertising to meet your interests. This both serves as a better reader service and gives small advertisers a better platform. A baseball card shop in the suburbs probably can't afford an ROP ad -- not on a regular basis, anyway -- but would love to put its ad in front of people who are reading baseball stories and/or stories about the neighborhood where the shop is located.

* Selling advertising across all of the company's news platforms with a single buy. This sounds so obvious it's painful, but isn't yet the case at my news org and many others. Want to reach a targeted demographic with ads in a specific place in the newspaper, an individual blog or two online and a particular section in one of our monthly magazines? Sure, we can do that. Or should be able to, anyway.

* Offering tiered content, some for free and some paid. All the basics are free, keeping the news org to keep its position as the dominant provider of information in its market. But the deeper content and analysis on various niches, from city hall to the local pro sports teams, is available behind a pay wall on either an a la carte basis or a single all-encompassing subscription.

* Being completely platform agnostic. I suspect the dominant distribution platform of the future will be mobile and will include a lot of video, but I don't know for sure. In the end, it doesn't particularly matter. What we sell is our content. How we distribute that doesn't really matter.

There are many, many other problems across the industry, of course. But if I thought I could snap my fingers today and make these five things happen, I'd feel a lot less anxious about ending up someday on one of those newsroom farewell videos.

1 comment:

  1. Do you think The Oregonian has the capacity to experiment with any of these ideas, though? If so, which do you predict they will take on first, and what's the timeline for implementation?