I have a fantastical dream of returning to Indiana and buying my hometown weekly newspaper.
Nevermind that I don’t have the cash, it’s not for sale and that I’m firmly rooted in the DC area.
I started in newspapers and continue to believe in them. Am I a dinosaur?
In this age when newspapers are struggling—heck, many of them are way beyond the struggling stage—I know of a few small, community newspapers that are still selling. Their stroke of luck? No competition. My hometown has one newspaper, no television stations and few bloggers. And the few bloggers it might have aren’t reporting on the local court hearings, school board meeting or eccentric character of the week.
Plus, the weekly newspaper is still the one-stop shop for arrest reports, birth announcements and local obituaries.
But not all papers have this captive population, and the smaller papers can’t assume these readers will always be there. Newspapers need to reinvent themselves.
I recently came across several new ideas aimed at bringing back community journalism and saving newspapers’ bottom line. I think the answer lies in a combination of embracing a “hyperlocal” website, going back to true community journalism by setting up “coffeeshop newsrooms” and creating unique revenue streams that look nothing like traditional print advertisement.
The Poynter Institute recently wrote about a phenomenon called “coffeeshop newsrooms” or “news cafes.” The idea is to get out of the newsroom more often and talk to your readers, not just for interviews or man-on-the-street quotes, but have actual conversations about what the newspaper should cover, what is happening in the community and who should be interviewed.
In other words, become partners with your readers and be a journalist from the street—not that hard today with smartphones and laptops.
The Poynter Institute talked to Colleen Curry, an editor of a community news blog in New Jersey who works out of a local café. Curry even has a sign that says, “The Journalist Is In,” which encourages community members to approach her. In Michigan, AnnArbor.com opened a coffee shop in its building for reporters to mingle with their readers.
The Washington Post has even made an attempt in this area, although reviews aren’t as strong. On a single day, the Post sent several reporters to coffeehouses around the city to seek out an original story. But the attempt may have been more of a singular stunt than an attempt to embrace true coffeehouse journalism.
Another recent attempt in rethinking newspapers shows that your local newspaper doesn’t necessarily have to be on paper. The new DC-based website TBD.com mixes articles from traditional journalists with reports from local bloggers.
Embracing a huge number of bloggers means TBD.com can cover the area better than the major media players. It allows every little community and suburb in the metro area to find its own local news by conveniently searching for articles on the site by zip code. It will be interesting to see how TBD.com evolves.
But all these ideas are just ideas if newspapers don’t find a way to make money. The co-founder of Yipit, a daily deal aggregator, proposes that newspapers embrace the Groupon business model.
According to Yipit, Groupon is on pace to make $300 to $500 million in revenue this year with a distribution list of more than 9 million subscribers. Local media, which already has an established audience, could be Groupon’s biggest competitor.
So, as I imagine reinventing my hometown newspaper, I envision setting up a “Journalist Is In” desk at the café downtown, where locals could easily find a reporter available to talk about the news around town. I would hold a mini summit of local people interested in blogging about their parts of the county or particular interests. And I see a sales team developing unique revenue streams that embrace the Internet while partnering with local businesses.
How would you save newspapers?