For newspapers, there is no magic bullet.
- Aggregation/curation: I'm still waiting for the first big newspaper site to take a serious crack at aggregating all the local news and information it can find, regardless of source, and establishing itself as the expert on all things local. (Hint: Watch the Chicago Tribune to break the mold here in the next few weeks.) It's a logical extension of the local brand, and it's a lot cheaper than putting more reporters on the street.
- Vertical products: One of the most broken things about the newspaper business is the "all things to all people" model. By trying to do a little of everything, newspapers don't really do anything well—for readers or for advertisers. New products that focus on specific, vertical audiences should be the wave of the future, but so far they're barely even a trickle (let's see—there's Gannett's MomsLikeMe franchise, and then...not much else).
- Hyperlocal: Just about everything else you can think of—national news, international news, movie reviews, even sports—is done as well or better on the Web. Which leaves local as the last truly defensible newspaper franchise (at least until some startup figures it out). Newspapers should be reorganizing their staffs around local news and information, aggregating where possible and reaching out to blogs and user-generated content to fill the holes. That can result in a package of unique content that readers can't get anywhere else.
- SEO: Instead of thinking of Google as the enemy, find ways to use it better. Search-engine optimization is standard procedure for successful Web sites, but all but unheard-of among newspaper sites. (Want proof? Search for a big local issue, name or icon, and see if the local newspaper site appears anywhere near the top of the results.) Newspaper sites should be doing everything they can to draw in readers who are searching for information that's all but hidden on their sites.
- New forms of advertising: Banner ads are so...1997. Interstitials, pop-ups and intrusive ads are so...obnoxious. Classifieds are so...dead. Meanwhile, Google is making money off of local search, other non-newspaper companies are pioneering things like click-per-call and pay-per-click, and various startups are perfecting cheap ways to create and sell local ads. Could it be that newspapers are having trouble making online advertising revenue grow because they're selling the wrong kinds of online ads? Hmmm.
- Expanding the advertiser base: Newspapers—including their Web sites—tend to focus on traditional advertising categories like banks, real estate, autos and retail. Quick, name four businesses you don't want anything to do with in this economy. Meanwhile, smaller, non-traditional local advertisers (plumbers, nail salons, cafes, you name it) are trying to figure out how to advertise online. Newspapers need to connect with them, pronto.
- Mobile distribution: Everybody's got a cellphone these days. But most newspaper sites don't reach them. Traffic alerts, headlines, latest scores, etc., are valuable pieces of information that readers want, and that newspapers can deliver via SMS, text or iPhone apps (with advertising and/or sponsorships, no less). But few papers do this well or consistently. In the same category: headlines and alerts via Twitter and RSS. Take these very seriously—don't pay them lip service or outsource them.