TECH TALK: Rethinking Newspapers: Jeff Jarvis Comments

Jeff Jarvis wrote a blog post entitled Deconstructing the Newspaper. Around the same time, there was a Business Week column by Jon Fine entitled The Daily Paper of Tomorrow. Put this along with declining advertising dollars for print (with a shift to the Internet) and one can see a need for change. In India, though, the situation is quite different. If anything, more newspaper editions are on their way. Looking ahead, in the Indian context, the combination of the three screens (TV, computer connected to the Internet and mobile) will impact reading habits. But we will get to that a little later.

Lets begin by reading what Jeff Jarvis wrote.

Newspapers waste too much money on ego, habit, and commodity news the public already knows. In an era of shrinking circulation, classified, and retail ad revenue and in the face of shrinking audience and increasing competition papers have to find new efficiencies and cut these expenses to concentrate instead on their real value (which, Ill argue, is local reporting).

Newspapers also have to have the guts to stop trying to produce one-size-fits-all products that serve every possible reader and interest in one edition. When they were monopolies, newspapers tried to have something for everyone so they would attract the largest possible audience and assure their status as the marketplaces in their markets. But today, that can be terribly inefficient: What is the real cost of maintaining stock tables for the few readers who still use them in print? More on that below.

And newspapers have to take an even more frightening step: They need to start driving readers from print to online.

Jeff made a telling point: When reality catches up to advertisers, and when buying ads online in a distributed world is made easier and that will happen will newspapers be ready? When that day does come, newspapers will even have to consider selling print as a value-added upgrade to online, the reverse of what is done today.

Jeff had a harsh prescription for the newspapers. Stock tables have to goReduce coverage [of national news] to digests and major newsPersonal finance is more of a national story than a local oneTV listings are a gonerEntertainment listings work best online if they are comprehensive and searchableSyndicate sports columnistsNational sports coverage is a luxurySyndicated features like bridge and advice columns, similarly, get no ad revenue and have nothing to do with the local mission of a paper.

Jeff suggests that newspapers focus on local news. Local news is what should matter most to a newspaperThe essence of a newspaper is local news with some other services and distractions. It is important for newspapers to boil themselves down to their essence and figure out how to do better at providing that unique and valuable service.

The point newspapers need to ponder: What is the role of a newspaper in a community and in readers lives. If it is still expected to be all things to all people in a nichey world, Im afraid the business will not work. Thats why newspapers need to figure out their essence.

Tomorrow: More Comments

TECH TALK Rethinking Newspapers+T

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.