Newsbrands of the 21st Century [1]

April 5th, 2009

Dave Cushman posts

The Guardian’s Open Platform project has caused a bit of a stir, at a time when mass media of all kinds is struggling to work out business models that have a better fit with the networked world.

The clever bit about the Guardian’s plan is that they don’t pretend they have the answers – they are sharing what they have with the rest of the world in the hope that a bit of global crowd-sourcing will evolve a sustainable solution.

At least that’s my take. But let Dr Chris Thorpe tell you more.

I myself have a real interest in the future of newsbrands, Good journalism is not only supported by advertising, Currency of information, the future of newspapers. And here for those wanting a deeper dive.

Stan Schroeder, writes

In short, Guardian will let anyone use their content on their site or web service. How do they plan on making money then? Well, this bit from their announcement might give you a clue:

“The Guardian is positioning its Open Platform as a commercial venture, requiring partners to carry its advertising as part of its terms and conditions.”

Therefore, instead of trying to charge you for content that can easily be duplicated ad infinitum, Guardian will let anyone duplicate and use their content and then slap ads on top of everything. Launch partners include The Cass Sculpture Foundation, which is using Open Platform to add Guardian articles about British artists to its site, as well as Stamen and OpenStreetMap, which developed a service that makes use of users geotagging Guardian articles, positioning articles, images and videos on a map.

Will it work? It’s too early to tell, but it definitely beats going out of business, and Guardian is showing some guts by embracing new business models instead of clinging on to old, defunct ones.

It definitely beats going out of business, precisely. Unfortunately for many newsbrands they have not experimented nor explored to the extent nor the degree that they should have done. I remember meeting the CEO of the Johnston Press and imploring him that, JP needed to do 2 things…

1). Think hard about how to create more value for its readers and to invest in that

2). Think harder about how in achieving [1] they delivered greater value for their advertisers

This had to be done as a web/mobile – ergo ‘digital’ strategy. Unfortunately, this did not happen. And the net result is the parlous state of JP today. And frankly I think there is no going back. Which is in fact tragic, because it has significant ramifications for peoples livelihoods.

Steven Moss’s subtitle to his extensive piece in Friday’s Guardian was

Across the country, local newspapers are being cut to the bone or closed down. Is regional journalism doomed? And if it is, what does that mean for local democracy?

He asks this question because

It’s a terrible cliche, but local and regional papers are caught in a perfect storm (national titles are having a hard time, too, but that’s for another day). The local readership is ageing; high streets are losing their shops; the three key regional advertising markets – property, cars and jobs – have dropped dramatically. The Newspaper Society, which represents the local press, estimates the year-on-year ad slump at between 10% and 20%, but in those three key sectors all the big groups put the fall at more like 40%, with the bubble-deflating south-east the worst affected. Sixty-plus papers, mostly “frees”, have already been closed – the Long Eaton Advertiser is unusual in being a paid-for casualty; 1,000 or so UK journalists have lost their jobs.

There is something deeply disturbing about the decline of newspapers, especially local ones.

My visit to Bath is instructive. Metro (another DMGT title) – free, generic, rootless and thus emblematic of our deracinated age – is in a dumpbin by the lift in the Chronicle’s offices; an unusual example of inviting an accomplice to your murder into your house. The centre of Bath itself is devoid of newsagents; they have been squeezed out by food shops and a Sainsbury’s. “That hasn’t helped us,” says Holliday. “The newsagents have been very loyal in the past, but they’re struggling.” The signage on a former newsagent, called The Editor, in Westgate Street still gleams, but it is – for one week only – a charity shop raising money for guide dogs.

Will our high-streets become centres for charity shops and supermarkets? And if so what is left? But also look at what news has become, and its value to us – free. Metro and free sheets like it – represent the age of cut and paste journalism or churnalism, and so it becomes litter on trains, and tubes, and buses. Nick Davies in Flat earth news writes

These are corporations that think greatly about commerce and casually about journalism. This is the heart of modern journalism, the rapid repackaging of largely unchecked second-hand material, much of it designed to service the political or commercial interests of those that provide it.

So what is there to learn about the Guardian’s initiatives? That one must focus on the core product – good journalism, writing, and work very hard at exploring what news and reporting looks like in the 21st Century and how one creates greater value for advertisers as a consequence. Trust is also of paramount importance.

I have one last thought and it is this – the furniture of advertising is different in the networked society, and in the search economy – we have to change the currency of advertisng – from display, to something that is more like a service, that enables people. That is more relevant, more contextual, more life- enabling. That is where the money is.

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