About Me

  • I'm CEO of Newspeg.com, a social news-sharing platform. I've spent 20 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies. You can read more about me here.

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June 27, 2008

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Comments

Eddie Roth

I don't have a problem with editorial writers signing their pieces. More than a few do so now, and I think it makes sense.

I also think that noboday can speak authoritatively about the future of newspapers without considering how traditional editorial page (opinion) content can be (and is being) adapted online and in reaching and engaging broader younger readers/audience/partners in local communities.

There is a lot of good work going on with opinion journalism — specifically by traditional editorial writers doing things with new media, networking with the community on matters local, local, local.

What's more, among older demographics the editorial page in the print product typically is well read. I think readers are more sophisticated than you give them credit for in understanding the separate and distinct and independent roles of news sections and opinion sections.

If you have more reasons for ditching the entire editorial page as a top recommendation for saving newspapers, you should explain them.

Precisely what homework have you done on this point?

Share with us whom you spoken to and what they said and what have you read that convinces you so?

Mark Potts

I'm not against the editorial page as long as it's the forum for a vibrant exchange of ideas. What I think is an anachronism is the unsigned editorial, which smacks of the days when press barons told people what to think. Every single online Q&A I see with a newspaper editor includes a question or two about how the newspaper's editorial position influences news coverage; clearly, many readers don't understand the separation of editorial church and state that journalists take for granted. Doing away with lecturing, unsigned editorials, and using the space--and more importantly the corresponding Web section--for a multitude of opinions would be far more interesting and less confusing.

M

Your ideas are on target, but there's nothing new about them. Look around you-- midsize dailies are all already trying, however glacially, to be more local, attract local ads, draw reader participation, trim the fat that can be found elsewhere and even, in some cases, innovate. This IS the new conventional wisdom-- this coupled with buyouts.

These are important fixes to make, but in the end, they don't add up to a profit model. And until someone finds that, there's no formula to revive the newspaper industry.

Elizabeth

Newspapers mostly deserve what they are getting. What we're seeing is what happens when monopolies suddenly face fierce competition they never expected, and they react by continuing to do business as usual.

Many are still rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

The proverbial writing was on the wall so long ago it seems we've been talking for at least a decade about how to "save" newspapers.

That said, the nut of the problem is that it isn't possible now or in the near future to replace the fat print ad revenue with online revenue, no matter how successful your website or great the content...

Three or four years ago I worked out on paper how my company could go printless and still retain enough staff to put out a good local online edition. I got nothing but scorn... That pretty much sums it up.

ed

One point I might add, and that is newspapers are devaluing their brand by doing what they are doing now. It is measurable, since publicly traded newspapers include an item called "goodwill" in their asset statements, which involve in part an assessment of what accountants believe the brand of the newspaper is worth. You can read the devaluations in the financial press, so the executives running newspapers know their product is worth less than it once was. So why is there so much complacency in front offices these days? They could maintain the value of their brand by shifting to online, but I believe they are scared that doing so they will give up their once lucrative print monopoly. Perhaps a long way of coming to the conclusion that this generation of newspaper execs are clueless and incapable of adapting to the changes that are drowning traditional newspapers.

Jared

Mark, glad to hear your cry for more local on newspaper sites. I work at outside.in, where we're trying to help newspapers (and all publishers, for that matter) improve their local inventory and navigation. Good to hear you prescribing our medicine.

Harvey Manning

Please use the Zone sections. There is lots of advertising to be had as I can atest, but very little editorial, which is available on our site. Either make Gloucester and South Of James a neighborhood newspapers or buy the competitors paper. Every newspaper study shows small newspapers are ones making money. We have an opportunity in both areas, without products that are not newspapers. The internet here is at least 5 years down the run. We something Now.
Harvey

Rocky

What is sad is that in the early early days of the Web, newspapers *were* innovative.

At startribune.com, we launched one of the first (if not the first) Web content management systems. We created a entertainment guide database way before CitySearch, upcoming, etc. We had our own real estate search with data we got straight from the local MLS. We licensed map and YP data and had our own YP/mapping service. We even had a live traffic map with real time speeds with data we got from MN-DOT.

We did a lot of great, exciting things WAY before others did. So where did we go wrong?

I can think of two things:
- Compartmentalized thinking. I approached management about commercializing some of our innovations. The answer I got was "we're a newspaper company". They couldn't see beyond the printing press.
- The fragmentation of the newspaper business. The Strib was a bit unique because it was (at the time and is now again) a one newspaper company. As great as our inventions were, we couldn't scale those apps against people who could focus on a vertical and spread the cost over a national audience.

The folks in Raleigh at Nando were also early innovators, along with post.com.

If there were a blogosphere back then, they would have been gushing about the things these three papers were doing.

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