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.
How many newspapers have a sizable staff responsible for managing print circulation? All of them of course. Now, how many have even one staff member responsible for managing online distribution via RSS, e-mail or Facebook? Damn few.
How many newspapers have a department devoted to fixing and painting news boxes? Just about all newspapers of any size. Now, how many have any staff devoted to thinking about how to optimize their site's placement in Web searches? Not many.
How many newspapers have an advertising production staff that can churn out a good-looking ad for any advertiser? It's essential, of course. Now, how many have anybody thinking about new forms of Web advertising that take advantage of tools like search, widgets, Flash, interactivity, data-mining, etc.? Very few.
How many newspapers have copy desks that work hard at presenting news to readers in a clear, understandable form? 100 percent. Now, how many have even one staff member whose job it is to find ways to place the newspaper's content on other Web sites, for maximum visibility and to create incoming links? Or to aggregate content from multiple sources into a one-stop local news portal? Almost none.
I could go on, but you get my point. Newspapers are still almost entirely focused on the print product, and still aren't devoting sufficient resources to optimizing and maximizing their online offerings. Yeah, they've got Web producers, but all they're doing to wrangling print content onto the paper's Web site. Sure, there are newspaper Web ad sales reps, but they're calling on the same advertisers that have been feeding the print side for years, trying to sell banner ads that are little more than online versions of print ads. Yes, there are (maybe) Web technical and marketing and (maybe) business development staffs in newspaper companies, but invariably they're overwhelmed and undermanned–token efforts compared to their equivalents on the print side.
This is why Marc Andreesen's daring recent suggestion that The New York Times dump its print edition and focusits efforts entirely online is so intriguing to many of us who've been watching the newspaper industry founder for years. Until newspapers put a laser focus on growing and improving their Web business–the same kind of focus, and more, that they're currently putting on their legacy business–they're going to fall farther and farther behind, to the point of extinction.
The Internet-related jobs and skills I mentioned above are absolutely essential to success on the Web, as much so as the traditional ones I compared them to are essential to print success. But resource allocation, management focus and internal culture at newspaper companies still are largely–overwhelmingly–print-oriented. Regardless of high-minded proclamations about being "Web-first" or lip service paid to attempting to truly compete online, virtually all newspapers still aren't taking their new media operations seriously enough. At best, it's probably a 90-10 split in favor of print these days. It needs to shift in the other direction, and pronto.
Newspaper Web sites need more people thinking about optimizing content, about finding new advertisers and types of advertising, about creating niche products to target specific audiences and advertisers, about aggregation, search, social networks, behavioral targeting and all of the other buzzwords that seem exotic to many print people but employ legions of people at competitors like Google and Yahoo and the Web startup you've never heard of that's coming after the papers' local news, information and advertising business. These upstart competitors think about this stuff all the time; newspaper people don't. And that's why newspapers, by continuing to fight the old battles, are losing the online war.
PS–Seth Godin suggests three essential more job types for any company that wants to be successful online. The first two–community organizer and stats fiend–are completely alien to newspapers. The third, manager of freelancers, sounds familiar, but really isn't. These are the sorts of skills newspaper Web sites need to get, and soon. And Alexandre Gamela updates the skills needed by journalists.