The rise of the Internet has impacted how mass media operates; specifically, how newspapers and magazines deliver material. Some magazines have ceased publication or switched to an all-online model. As for newspapers, some have merged together, others have been sold to corporations, a few have ceased publication and some have even tried an all-online model.
Magazines typically serve a national audience and can thus adjust as needed to the demands of that audience. Newspapers, though, are different in that they are generally based in cities and towns and thus need to serve the local clientele.
As somebody who writes for a newspaper that serves a small city and several surrounding smaller communities, I know The Raton Range serves an important role. The Raton Range has had to adjust to changing technology but what has really kept it going is the fact it serves a local clientele. There is the challenge of how to find more advertisers, but readership would not be there if The Raton Range switched its focus too far away from the local communities.
This seems to be an area in which many larger newspapers are drifting away from. It is true they, like all newspapers, need advertisers to stay in business. But it’s important for newspapers to remember that the cities they are based in need to come first when it comes to coverage.
Given changes in how content can be delivered and in technology, along with the need to keep local clientele in mind, I think most newspapers could best be served by following a few guidelines.
First, keep the focus mostly on the city in which the newspaper is based. There is little reason for a newspaper to focus heavily on national news topics, unless one has a direct impact on the city in which the paper is based. Covering some news from the state level is fine, particularly whatever has the most impact on the city in question. But there are many more avenues in which people can access national news events, so most newspapers don’t need to focus efforts there.
What this leads to is that fewer newspapers need to be members of The Associated Press, particularly if they serve a smaller city or community. Being a member of the AP costs a lot of money. The AP itself needs to evolve the most in the face of changing technology and delivering of content. It can still serve a role in providing content to those who provide news coverage via the web, and in providing content to the largest newspapers, but there is far less of a need for smaller papers to continue their ties to the AP.
Newspapers should also examine as many avenues as possible to deliver content. This does not simply mean putting together a website and requiring people pay a subscription to access it. When music downloads over the Internet became a major event, it eventually led to the rise of iTunes and similar services, in which people could pay for the material they wanted to acquire and not be forced to buy a CD that may have material people might not have as much interest in. A model in which people pay specifically for the content they want could work just as well for most newspapers, perhaps with certain sections always made free (obituaries and classified ads are two perfect examples) and possibly allowing readers to view a certain number of articles for free before they must pay for an article.
If newspapers are worried that people won’t pay for written material, the truth is that, while there will always be those who want something for nothing, the majority of people will pay for something they enjoy and find to be of high quality. Again, music downloading provides that example. It may have started as music being passed around the Internet for free, and there is still such activity taking place. But iTunes showed that people were still willing to pay for music — all they wanted was a different approach to how they paid for it.
Andrew Sullivan, who runs The Dish, has introduced a pay model for his website that has already attracted many subscribers. His model is not a pay-per-article one but it still shows that people who like the material he provides are willing to pay for it. I would not be surprised to see more of the popular websites try paid models as well, although it may be better for more websites to try a pay-per-article model.
Newspapers can deliver content by other means as well. The Raton Range offers an online version of the paper, in PDF format, which subscribers may download to a computer or reading tablet. This format allows for a less expensive version of the paper to be delivered. It means newspapers do not have to spend as much on printing expenses, thus allowing the newspaper to offer subscriptions at a lower cost and thus save readers money.
I do believe there is still going to be a place for material printed on paper — it just won’t be as large as it has been. There is still something to be said about clipping a favorite article from a newspaper and putting it into a scrapbook.
But newspapers can’t simply stick to the model that has been done in the past and must find ways to adapt. Those that do will remain in business, even if it’s under different circumstances.