Publications that have differentiated content (e.g. Wall Street Journal, NYT, Economist) seem to be doing just fine, but having thousands of papers that rehash the same content without any edge on each other whatsoever is just not sustainable given the current state of information technology.
EDIT: I only considered revenue from the subscribers, and ignored downward pressure on advertising revenue. The point still stands - the market can no longer sustain undifferentiated content (people don't pay for it anymore, and advertisers will pay less than before because they have better options), and differentiated content is probably a worse business than it used to be (people will pay for it, but the revenue from advertisers is still being diverted to Google).
i definitely agree that bland, undifferentiated content is killing the newspapers. what happens when revenues are down? fire the newsroom, get content from AP.
unfortunately, i am the one who is to blame for all the share buttons.
"Cutting funding for bike lanes because there isn't enough demand is like cutting literacy funding because not enough people are reading. Bike lanes are not built to satisfy demand. They're meant to serve as an incentive to encourage more cycling by increasing safety." -- Dave Meslin
Ah, that's incredible, I didn't know that. I think it's really easy to connect the dots here. Since news is a commodity and global distribution is cheap, journalism becomes a business of extremes, much like books and startups. A tiny percentage of journalists who are really good at writing will be in huge demand, while the overwhelming majority will barely be able to sell anything. If you couple that with downward pressure on advertising prices, local papers cannot be "saved" - there's just not enough revenue for them in the market to sustain them at all. I don't think the total market size is shrinking, just that small newspapers can't effectively compete.
That means a few big brands will emerge and take the lion's share of the revenue. Or perhaps even one brand that will take everything, "the facebook (or paypal) of news". It was supposed to be Digg, but I guess not...
The main point I set out to make is it's not just about driving traffic to sell ads but something more near and dear to my heart, user experience. If you put pageviews above building loyalty among your base what you're doing is selling out long term reader loyalty for short term gain. The New York times is a great example of a site that has chosen to adopt the web as its own medium and because of that its paywall is actually working. (or at least the paper as a whole is profitable, maybe someone can provide me with more details about the paywall's profitability). The NYTimes has built a unique and recognizable brand built on quality.
All the tactics I outlined in the comic point to one thing: They care more about page views than the actual human reading the site. It's true most people will not pay for news because it's a commodity but I think there is a large number of people who would pay for news, myself included.
This is true in any industry. Look at Starbucks, look at Apple. They are selling product for 4 times more than their competitors yet people buy them. Why? It's all about the user's experience, they are buying more than just something that works.
In they end your customers will treat you the way you treat them. If you're going for cheap traffic it means you care more about churning out content than building brand loyalty and you will always be chasing short term traffic instead of a long term community that be loyal to your paper. These guys are hurting online because they have failed to build long term loyalty which their print counterparts have (or had).
By the way, you don't need to sign your posts. Your username appears above it anyway.
This is mainly a list of one person's pet peeves, asserted to be the reason that newspapers are hurting. I have another theory: the advertising market for newsprint is being decimated. The pop-unders and massive ads are probably the only thing keeping your local newspaper alive.
I don't think it's fair to say that the NYT is "dying" at this point. Here's how New York Magazine put it just this week:
"It will take years for the ultimate wisdom of the Times’ strategy to be apparent, but the company’s second-quarter-earnings report proves that its digital-subscription plan has thus far been an enormous success. The internal projections have been closely held, but several people have confirmed that the goal was to amass 300,000 online subscribers within a year of launch. On Thursday, the company announced that after just four months, 224,000 users were paying for access to the paper’s website. Combined with the 57,000 Kindle and Nook readers who were paying for subscriptions and the roughly 100,000 users whose digital access was sponsored by Ford’s Lincoln division, that meant the paper had monetized close to 400,000 online users. (Another 756,000 print subscribers have registered their accounts on the Times’ website.)"
"With the exception of websites charging for sports statistics, financial data, and porn, that makes nytimes.com one of the very few content providers that is monetizing its users"
"Quick note: The first panel is taken from the Denver Post, not the New York Times. I didn’t notice the byline in there. The story’s author actually does a very good job of linking out to other sites"
Denver Post - http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_18451993
NYTimes - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/07/technology/personaltech/bo...
It may not directly increase their bottom line, but linking to sources increases access to information and allows the public to get more informed and more knowledgable. Many newspapers say this is one of their goals.
The newspapers that seem to be hanging on all appear to be cost-cutting like mad, moving from reportage to opinion and chasing the lowest common denominator.
The most successful news website in the UK (and second in the world behind the NYT) is The Daily Mail. Their web content is completely different to their print content. Offline, they're a populist rag specialising in paranoid scare stories about gypsies, muslims and cancer. Online, they rely heavily on linkbaity celebrity gossip and pictures of Pippa Middleton's arse. They've worked out that what drives traffic is different to what sells papers. "Quality" is the least important aspect of a news operation, at least in terms of profit.
The fall of newspapers is actually a perfect storm: classifieds (something like 40% of revenues, historically) have been gutted by sites like craigslist, and CPM rates for print have been on the decline because the internet has essentially infinite inventory. In the web world, we think a few dollars' CPM is pretty decent, but the newspaper industry is built around the assumption of much higher rates (i.e. in the tens or hundreds of dollars per thousand "impressions"). You can't build a strong local newspaper with paid reporters, investigative journalism, etc., on a $2 CPM. The market is too small.
I'm not sure how to precisely formulate this, but it seems to me that an ironic effect of our ever-increasing command over automation, manufacturing, and production, and all the other things that used to take humans but now are done automatically far cheaper, is that in relative terms an hour of human time has become ever more expensive, even as we theoretically have many more of them since we have more people and need fewer people to support them. You can see that in things like how expensive a maid service is in an industrialized country vs. less industrialized ones relative to the average local wealth level.
"Real" news collection isn't really something that can be automated, though. It can be assisted with databases and content management software, but the hard work of digging through facts, correlating them, doing interviews, background checks, and all the other stuff necessary for a really good story isn't getting easier any time soon.
I'm really at a loss as to how this can be made economical in the modern environment, even in theory.
Most news organizations produce news content for average people, for whom "the news" has little practical day-to-day value. Thus, their "users" are generally unwilling to pay for the content (and are therefore sold to advertisers as products). STRATFOR  takes the approach of producing very high quality news content that is of legitimate value to businesses, who are willing to pay decent money for that level of insight. (I don't know if they're doing well financially, just putting them out there because of their different approach.)
Patio11 is fond of pointing out that you should target the right customers, and avoid the pathological ones. This seems to me like a good example -- target the businesses that actually need to know about geopolitical shifts in Indonesia, rather than the average Joe who finds it interesting but not impactful.
 http://www.stratfor.com/ -- "Strategic Forecasting"
Can you imagine a newspaper without any AP stories in it? So clean. So relevant. So free of redundancy from the kind of information I already digested 12 hours earlier... Excuse me while I go get a scissors and get to work.
Frankly, I kind of suspect that local news will eventually be dominated by passionate bloggers. They don't have the overhead that a newspaper does, so they can deal with smaller budgets. Every community in my area has at least one local blog, and honestly, they're great for local news.
These things lead directly to the quality issues you're seeing. It's difficult to justify high end online content presentation when you can hardly afford to keep writers around. How many newspapers can really compete for engineering talent when there are sexier, better paying jobs at not-a-newspaper, inc?
Most twenty somethings i know never read the newspaper. Yet as they buy houses and have kids they develop an intense interest in local news about their community. The company that gets local right will be the new Hearst of this era. I am pretty sure it won't be one of the giants like Gannett.
Right now I learn as much local news on Twitter as I do the local daily newspaper I read every morning.
Now they produce a daily-updated, hyper-local blog covering a huge, sparsely populated area. It's full of pics of local people, debate on local issues and news not covered elsewhere. (People will buy a paper, or read a blog, if you print a picture of someone they know. Why do you think local papers print pages and pages of kids who are starting school every September?)
This is an area that didn't have a local press to speak of before. There was one weekly local newspaper, but nothing on this scale enabling people who might be 50 or 100 miles apart discuss shared issues instantly.
Your newspaper dying is why this is.
Actually I don't want a link to the actual live offense, but a link to a full screenshot of the entire visible page seems to be warranted. Because I'd like to see a) the context of these screwups (in the first panel, is it actual content produced by the paper, or wire material in which re-editing presents other logistical obstacles?) and b) I want to know what paper made the alleged screwup. Because if the article has a nice link bait headline slamming the entirety of the news industry, yet uses examples from the Podunk Gazette and similarly sized papers, that's also worth knowing.
The NYTimes, Economist, and New Yorker (for example) all provide excellent news through all kinds of channels, and in many cases with most, if not all, of the points addressed. All the crap the cartoonist complains about is purely driven by the need of newspapers to replace lost revenue, and there's no evidence that most readers are willing to pay.
Thank God I'm not the only one that sees this as nonsensical and annoying. Who first came up with it, and where do they live? I've got to return all the crap they threw at me; I certainly don't want it.
The examples cited are endemic problems in leadership, organization and focus. I worked in newspaper for 6 years, then the music business for 6. There are really smart people in both industries, most of whom have left or are leaving because at the top, the motivation is to bolster justification for existence rather than innovate.
Its often easier, and more profitable to let the ship sink. Sad as that is.
Of note, some of my former colleagues at the paper have done interesting things, like Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand
The readers needs are way down the order or priorities, yet the readers paying for content directly is the only halfway viable business model. It may not be enough, but they could at least once have tried a strategy that puts the readers first.
I was a long time free subscriber of nytimes.com but now after the pay wall I switched to wsj.com because it clearly states the articles that are locked (removes guessing).
Most folk don't realise that the cover price of a newspaper doesn't even pay for the whole cost of printing.
this is why your blog is IMAGE NOT FOUND
The stories are good enough -- the comments are a trash heap and a den of cluelessness, and this has been the case for years. The editors have done nothing to curb the nastiness, which even Chron bloggers themselves have complained about. The least they could do is post the geographical region the commenters post from, as it really surprises me to think that there is so much negativity in SF. I don't even need to entertain the idea of them using the FB comments plugin.
My point in bringing this up is to add another data point to the "newspaper editors are clueless about how to run a website" narrative. But it also corroborates the idea that these websites are such messes because of their extreme financial situation -- the trainwreck comment sections are also an attraction, in that they are frequently so outrageous and inflammatory that people feel compelled to respond, and somehow that equals dollars.
Personally, the spinelessness of the SFGate editors has turned me off to ever giving them a penny. I've gone from reading it daily to only occasionally reading articles which are forwarded to me, and then, resisting reading the comments.
I'm sure this is great entertainment for the five or ten people who sit on the internet every day, waiting for stories to be published and then posting their spiteful right-wing rants. But for the vast majority of readers, the thousands who visit to look at the news and click on the ads, it's highly likely that the unpleasant messages are offputting, are a blot on the good reputation of the paper and discourage them from visiting again. I visit the sites to read the news, as written by skilled, qualified journalists. I don't visit to read the unmoderated opinions of "BigMan69" in "Britainistan."
I run a tight ship on the local public radio station site I'm in charge of, which publishes local news stories daily--I encourage people to leave their real name if it's at all possible, and anonymous hateful rants are swiftly removed. Station staff also regularly engage in the comment discussions, which seems to help people self-moderate. If they can see that they're being read and responded to by the people writing the stories, they aren't as likely to go off on rants.
Nice clean clear Web site you have there.