Steve Yelvington, Digital Strategist for Morris DigitalWorks, comments on his blog on an email I recently sent to members of the American Press Institute's Newspaper Next Taskforce. I wrote, in part, that newspapers should recognize that in the future:
"Video and audio content generation will become a normal product of the papers.
Non-printable media must become more prominent in the future."
In the last 10 years we've seen all three major media (Newspaper, Radio, Television) move parts of their businesses to the Internet. This move to online has required significant changes in the way each of these media do business and the skills they require to do business. The challenge of developing new skills has been particularly drastic for the Radio and Television news providers who have not only been forced to learn how to bring to the Internet the audio or video products that distinguished them from newspapers, but they have also been forced to embrace and learn the art of producing written words -- traditionally the specialty of the newspapers. During the same period of migration to online, the newspapers have largely ignored the challenge of learning the audio and video skills of their "competitors" and have satisfied themselves (although not necessarily their audiences) by simply repurposing their printable content and printable-content generation skills. The newspaper "newsroom" now often hosts editors and writers familiar with the unique requirements of online publishing, but the newspapers' newsrooms are still foreign territory for audio and video producers.
While radio and television producers have been learning to broaden their scope by become printable/readable content generators, the newspapers have avoided this form of growth in their skill sets. The websites of CNN, NPR, CBS, Fox, ABC, etc. are growing into vibrant and exciting multimedia sources of audio, video and written news. The radio and television sites are leading in learning what the "news" site of the future will look like. Radio and Television websites are becoming better "newspapers" than the newspapers'...
Much is said of the fact that the Internet is sapping the markets and traditional revenue sources of newspapers. Craigslist, Monster and eBay are cutting into the classified advertising and job posting business that traditionally provided the newspapers with significant but now declining revenue. Google, Yahoo!, and others are providing news aggregation services (often based primarily on newspaper originated content) that many prefer to the newspapers' sites. It is less often admitted that producers like CNN, CBS, and NPR are widely seen as building more compelling, more timely, and more entertaining news products than the newspapers. These producers, whose product has traditionally been looked down upon by the newspaper industry as mear "rip-and-read voices" or "actors reading from scripts" are now no longer to be ignored.
For the newspapers to be seen as vibrant and relevant providers of news and information in the future, they must loose themselves from their traditional binding to the written and printable word. They must embrace the full range of media opportunities available to them and which are useful to their audience. The newspapers must emulate their competitors in learning their competitors' skills. Some examples follow:
- Audio -- Podcasts: When I'm interviewed by a newspaper reporter, they will often use an audio recorder but the printed result of a 30 minute intense interview will usually be no more than a sentence or two of mangled words. When I speak to a Podcaster with the same recorder, the output will be an indepth interview that really gets across the points that I'd like to make... For some people, the short summary (often provided in "show notes") is all they want, but others who want to know more will listen to the whole interview. How many hours of newspaper reporters' recordings are simply erased after the story is written? Each minute of those recordings (with some editing) should be viewed as a valuable asset by the newspaper -- today, it is seen merely as waste.
- Video -- VideoCasts: Video is slightly more difficult to obtain than audio recordings but still quite easy if you consider that the quality standards on the Internet are relatively low. Once a journalist has filed a story, why not ask the same journalist to comb their hair and step into the "booth" to provide a video discussion of the piece that expands on the print constrained written word? Why not have someone on the newspaper staff read a summary of the daily news several times during the day? Why not present movie trailers and other readily available video content on the newspaper's site? Why not outfit reporters with $100 video recorders and have them use them in much the same way that they use voice recorders today? There is no reason why a story about a burning house in the online newspaper can't have the same "entertaining" video clips of firetrucks that are the mainstay of television reporting... The Video iPod is in the process of doing for video content what the original iPod did for audio content. Soon, we'll be watching CBS news and CNN on the subway instead of just listening to NPR recordings -- why shouldn't we be able to watch the New York Times on the subway?
A breaking away from the written word, and it's almost immediate binding to the issues of printing on paper, could be the root of an important conceptual shift in the newspaper business. As the papers begin to work more and more with content that cannot be printed, they will begin to learn more clearly that their businesses are not or should not be defined by the limitations of the printing press.
Yelvington asks: "How about a low-budget local cable TV channel designed for channel-flippers to watch while avoiding the commercial breaks on other channels?" Of course this makes sense. Just as papers shouldn't see their product limited to printing on paper, they shouldn't let the Internet simliarly constrain what they do. Satellite Radio is becoming an important distributor of audio content and we may one day see iPod like devices that download scheduled content from the airwaves. (We'll eventually learn that point-to-point broadcast has limits...) The newspapers should be publishing their audio content on Sirius channels (with advertising). Similarly, Cable TV shouldn't be overlooked. Once the newspapers are generating video content, it should be used wherever possible.
The radio and television producers are already providing better online newspapers than the newspapers are. When will the newspapers finally wake up?