Newspapers have to evolove... but can they? Here's what I think they need to do...

If traditional newspaper companies are going to ?survive? the Internet, there are two things that they are going to have to embrace for their online media: make it ultra-local and interactive. Small(er) local print media are best positioned to deliver this.

However, before they can do this transformation, they have to understand one thing: You are NOT a newspaper company anymore, but rather you are a MEDIA company, like Time Warner or General Electric or even Google (yea, I said Google). Your art is no longer just the printed word on newsprint (or at least it shouldn?t be). While that will be a part of what you do for some time, you need to start to focus on what is next for your company.

When you look at smaller-sized papers, ultra-local should be easy to deliver online since most are already doing this. Far too often local newspapers try to be bigger than they are when they move to the Web, thinking that they need to do this to keep up with the regional media-type sites. It's not needed and in a lot of ways, not wanted by Web users looking for local news. I know that if there was a local Web site that served my community (or at least my local ?news? area), I would be there daily.

But, delivering ultra-local client in a traditional style is not enough. The content needs to be dynamic and interactive. This is a hard thing for 'print' media to get because it is very different than anything they are used to. Most print media think that it is their job to inform their 'users' ? a one-way conversation with the readers/user of a site. I think that new media needs to not only inform but allow for the public to talk among themselves.

Sites that have built in opportunities to allow the public to interact with your site, even as simple as sending calendar items online to a database and more advanced with technology where people can actually post news and questions to your site, are already ahead of the game. There are many types of interactivity that a media company can look at adding to your site. Even doing what you think is small, is probably a lot more than most are doing.

Blogs are part of this, but only a little part, I think. Blogs are more 'traditional' in nature, where one person has a voice and pushes information onto the public. Yes, the public can comment and interact with the writer, but it's one-sided to start.

User submitted video and audio is also something that every newspaper should look at under this heading. There are several thoughts about how to implement: You can either allow the public to post video to your site and then you can remove it later, if you need to, or ?gate keep? the site and approve everything. I would vote for the former, and remove with caution and postings that are in the wrong place.

So, how do you tie this all together?

While it is great to have an overall plan for where media companies want to be in a few years, I think it is better to know short term what is to be accomplish and not be afraid to try it. Far to often, it seems, newspaper companies try to find a ?grand plan? for where they want to be online and take WAY to long to get there. I am the first person to say that I hate it when I build something and then have to scrap it because it didn?t meet the requirements of what was truly needed, but it is my feeling to try something? if it doesn?t work, try something else.

Technically, you have to look at databases (duh!). This is maybe the biggest challenge for smaller newspapers because the technology is potentially different than what they are doing now. But, using flat HTML files rather than a database will prevent companies from moving forward. Database-afying content not only makes the information more searchable, but allows more flexibility to how it is presented. It allows structure where the site can interlink stories and features and could also help implement interactivity.

One last thing that I thought I would mention is the idea of a 'community' online. It?s an idea that has been tossed around a lot. The ?MySpace? or ?Facebook? models of allowing your members to interact with one another, those with like ideas or similar lifestyles, are huge online right now. The problem with trying to do a 'local' version of a site like that is getting the critical mass to make it work. Don?t get me wrong. I think there is a place for them, but I question whether or not they will work on an local platform.


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