Can Entrepreneurs Save Newspapers? Even in Chicago?

Forrest ChristianOrganizations 4 Comments

Can Entrepreneurs Save Newspapers?

Dunno. But you might. Newspapers are dying. Which means that it’s a great time for a hidden high potential to get into the News business with a completely different model.

Crains Chicago has video on some new ideas coming out in town (that’s Chicago) to solve the newspaper problem. Both the Tribune and Sun-Times parent companies aren’t doing well. The Tribune Company is bankrupt, of course, and the Sun-Times is on the ropes.

(We saw them both in an earlier review of newspapers problems with reporting circulation.)

Some interesting ideas.
The real secret to news is that no one really cares. All news is local, they say. The best thing is to be very local, and publish names. That means that you need a real community, so that people care about reading about people that they know. I know that I would probably still pay for a Valparaiso-only paper, but it would have almost no budget.

Advertising is being sent out in fake little weekly papers, mostly just vehicles for ads. Which, of course, is what newspapers are. It’s not about the news: it’s about the adverts.

Of course, if you decide to offer a different way to get the news you are going to anger the giant and dying newspaper companies. Threatened with the failure of their own management decisions, they will definitely try to get a pound of flesh out of the new companies. Or they will try to take what you have invented and claim it as their own. Either way, you’re going to court.

How will we get news in the future? I’m not sure what the future will be. Blogging is dead (more or less) except for some big events it makes little sense. I’m betting the real solution will come after the papers all implode. I can’t see the television news picking up the slack: they’re not doing well either, because fear-mongering only works in the short run and too many people no longer care.

Did you know that a inordinately large percentage young Americans get their information on national issues from comedy programs like The Daily Show? And that when tested it had information content equal to many of the “real” cable news networks, and sometimes exceeded them in analysis?

Interesting problem.

Comments 4

  1. Let´s use our own tools to deconstruct by what we mean by news.

    At level 1 news probably is a as-is reporting, like news flashes, immediate reporting of events. Here new media has turned the old world upside down. By the time we get our morning newspaper we know all “level one” news.

    At level 2, news is bundled and somehow hang together, and could probably be seen as a first level of analysis, making some sense of what is going on. An article or news program would probably contain interviews with several people, maybe tie several events together.

    At level 3, news is probably considered as in-depth and analytical, exploring how things hang together and interact, making sense of the larger picture. An article would be quite long, on TV it could be a complete program.

    At level 4 possible future directions would probably be discussed. This does not imply that other levels of news do not speculate about the future, but they are probably not as capable of doing so.

    I think that what we are seeing is that newer media is wrenching away levels 1-2 from the newspapers, who then are left with levels (2)-3-4, and many probably cannot produce at that level. Personally I think that we will have a resurgence of the type of content that we find in weeklies and monthlies, with in-depth and overviewing material dominates.

    These are just some preliminary thoughts and it woud be great if others could help to expand them.

  2. Post

    You make excellent points, as always.

    The problem is that Level 1 news will disappear along with the newspapers. Much of the event reporting is funded by newspapers.

    I think that we actually need to return to more Level 1 news but much more locally. I don’t get enough 1 and 2 news for my region. There may be scads of it in Chicago, but my county in northern Indiana has very little. I’d love to know more about what’s going on in my city. Even aggregating the council meetings discussions would be interesting.

    Part of the problem here in the States is that news became Big Business and started doing too much non-news items. Feature articles are nice but they shouldn’t be the backbone of your paper. Unless it’s local news.

    With increased technology in differentiated print runs, you could create papers for each community (including ones with 1-2,000 people in them) with targeted news. This is similar to how you get your news from aggregators like Yahoo! or Google News. You get shown what you’re interested in. I’m not interested in news from Hobart but I might be about Kouts, which is in my county and close to my city.

    The idea that one of those entrepreneurs had is good: use technology to create the basic news articles automatically. You set a spider to trawl the web for particular types of information. For example, my city lists information about City Council meetings on a certain page. Assuming that they list the information, you could program a web spider to crawl that site, excerpt the information, and create a reasonable article of Level 1 news: “The Valparaiso City Council met on Thursday night to decide ITEM ONE, ITEM TWO and ITEM THREE. [if COMMUNITY DISCUSSION then ….]”

    Newspapers would then not need to have that many people involved. The problem is that you would still want some because interpreting this over time is interesting (Level 2 or 3). You could get guest writers to write about Level 3 and 4.

    You could also start selling intelligence rather than news. I meant it as in “military intelligence’: not just facts but what trends are important. People do this very well with national business news and people are willing to pay a premium for it. I think Bloomberg is still doing well.

    Local news is surely where the money can be made. The problem is that it’s a headache and newspeople like to think of themselves as Smarter Than You, whereas a local newspaper is all about what happened at the annual sack race at the elementary school.

  3. I think that you are right in that local news is important. Once I saw what looked like a log scale, where event “size” grew with distance to compare in newsworthiness to what was local.

    The internet is really shaking current business models. Maybe there is room for somebody to create a national platform for very local content and advertising, which could mean that local reporters would not have to think so much about that sort of stuff and be able to get paid for their work. Maybe something to tack onto Craigslist?

    Somebody wrote that reading a newspaper for many is like wallowing in a pool. I do not want to be without my morning tea and papers. At weekends wallowing really is the word, and it is a feeling that I cannot get with the computer.

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