Newspapers evolution to obscurity?

It's been a while since I last wrote. I've been really busy trying to help the company I work for make the evolution from a print company (albeit weekly newspapers) to a multimedia company. We've made some great strides, but there is still much to do.

Yet, all around us, newspapers have closed and failed. Of those that haven't, some of the biggest are on the brink of disaster. The Seattle P-I has turned to a Web-only format; Denver's Rocky Mountain News has closed it's door.

When asked whether he would consider buying more newspapers, Warren Buffett, owner of The Buffalo News, said, "For most newspapers in the United states, we would not buy them at any price. They have the possibility of going to just unending losses." This, according to the Wall Street Journal (a newspaper... hmmmm).

So, if newspapers go away, what would be left? I have read that "newspaper staffs" generate three quarters of all news we consume. When you look at the local news scene, it's almost 100 percent of the news. You don't see the "local" TV stations covering the local San Carlos City Council meeting (actually, there is really nobody who does at this point) unless there is a large issue like the recent grass vs. artificial turf battle. And even then, it's a quick story about the result.

The plan?

I can tell you it's not something like Twitter, at least as it's used now... I just don't understand the appeal to know everything all the time about everyone. Plus, Facebook offers the same functionality, plus a lot more. For local news, it could work, but the number of "feeds" you'd have to follow could get a little crazy... a little overload!

Revenue is the name of the game. I've lost faith and confidence that a newspaper sales staff can build the correct kind of revenue, even if they did have something to sell.

So, doom and gloom all around? Sort of but not entirely. I still believe the local information model has a way to survive. Is it Web-based or text-based is the question? Is there some new device around the corner just waiting to take hold? It's hard do know.

I've always thought a mobile viewing system for information, cheap enough to be able to leave on the train on accident but powerful enough to give you the experience of the full Web was the sweet spot. Maybe smart phones (such as the iPhone and Blackberry Storm) are that sweet spot -- while not cheap enough to leave on the train, they are powerful enough to give you the experience while being important enough to be with you all the time.

The Web is news where you want it when you want it. The smart phone could be the delivery method we've been looking for. Generate content that preforms well in the small media screen and gain users. Turn the users into evangelists for your product and advertisers should follow.


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