You know why newspapers have had such a hard time dealing with the Internet? It’s because, back in what seems like pre-history, before we all had near-ubiquitous access to anything and everything, wired and wireless, the daily newspaper functioned a whole lot like the Internet, only thrown onto our porches by kids on bicycles.
There was the news of the world and the local community. There were sports updates, movie reviews and calendar items and notices of business openings and comments from readers. And in the back, a database of job openings, stock quotes, and stuff for sale. The Daily Miracle, they called it, curated and edited for your approval seven times a week.
For newspapers, the Internet at the turn of the century wasn’t so much a distribution channel as a much more efficiently modeled, deeper, broader (and — this was the part that seemed so foreign to many newspapers at the time — live) re-imagining of the platform that had been honed and perfected for more than 200 years on the to-that-point most efficient and profitable delivery mechanism known: ink on paper.
For a while, merely repurposing the newspaper’s mass, general model to the new platform worked. There were plenty of people willing to suffer through uninspired designs and pop-under ads to get at the primary piece of the pre-internet newspaper world which conveyed to the wired era with enough value to make it worthwhile: lots of original reporting, edited by pros.
Now, that’s nice, but not enough. There’s plenty news online — has been for years — and little need for pre-Internet generalism packaged up in print-aping sections. And there’s especially little need for all of that behind a paywall.
Which brings us to an inspired post by Kyle Baxter, called “A Newspaper for the Web.” Baxter first looks at why we read (present-tense) and read (past-) newspapers:
I don’t think, though, that reading the day’s headlines was the newspaper’s only purpose. If that were the case, headlines with very small stories would be sufficient. The newspaper was a powerful medium because they could be a deep window into the world. They provided readers with a clear understanding of what’s going on in the world that’s worth knowing, meaningful insight to what’s important about each of those headlines, and the opportunity to learn about topics readers never would have sought out themselves. Coverage, insight, serendipity. All in one place, consistently.
Baxter then goes on to define, in detail, how that itch, scratched, could be rebuilt into a thriving 21st Century business:
Here’s what it is: an organization whose goal is to be the only place readers need to go to find out what’s going on that’s important (coverage) and what’s meaningful about news events and relevant issues (insight and context). Go deep on certain subjects (politics, technology, sports) and make their writing on it so good that anyone interested in the subject has no choice but to read it. Embrace the web, rather than resist it. General-interest articles are freely available, and verticals are gated but open to links. Publish links to terrific pieces from other sources, and do so as prominently as they do their original content.
Here’s the business model: rather than target a mass audience with advertisements and augment it with subscriptions, target audiences passionate about certain subjects with reasonable subscriptions and augment with advertising to mass audiences. Provide everyone with a collection of original reporting, in-depth reporting on topical issues, and links to must-read pieces from other sources that, together, provide coverage of news and insight into its meaning. Use the general-interest content, which is completely open to share, to build readership and funnel people toward the verticals. Allow subscribers to share articles.
There’s lots more at the link, well worth your time if you care at all about the survival of journalism.