Today’s Thought: Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that newspapers suck on the Web

The lack of competitive online and mobile products from newspapers has left a huge opening for startups.

And that’s good news for a lot of us.

If you’re an entrepreneurial journalist, maybe you should be happy there is very little competition in the online landscape. Yes, I know that there are some companies like the Las Vegas Sun, Lawrence Journal-World, Washington Post, New York Times and some others doing innovative things online, but the vast majority of newspapers have craptastic Web sites.

Small community papers should be most afraid. These are often the papers with the worst Web sites (some don’t have any and many have barely functional ones). They rarely have good archives, almost never allow comments and discussion and many don’t update in-between print editions.

Plus, the barriers to entry for doing small-town journalism (be it offline or online) are much lower. A basic WordPress installation would be much better than most small-town newspapers’ Web sites.

Someone is going to benefit from the poor effort that most newspapers are putting online. This is a perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs to move in and defeat a weak enemy and give people a better product at the same time.

  • I could see the smaller papers being some of the best opportunities for new people coming up. Take a small paper’s Web site and build it up. Granted, that would require ownership dedicating some funds to paying these people, but I could see community or smaller papers building themselves up with young digital natives as the backbone.

  • Andrew M. Roman

    I see some sort of hybrid Web work occurring in smaller news markets.

    For small news companies that want to build their online presence, it might be wise to employ (or otherwise exclusively retain) a group of local, tech-savvy people to post and promote the paper’s content using existing platforms such as YouTube, Flickr, WordPress, etc.

    Each of these people might have their own site/blog (or YouTube channel), but would feature the newspaper’s content, along with their opinions, and the comments from other people. The news company could build a simple site of links pointing to these citizen webmasters.

    Many larger newspapers already have branded YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, and robust blogs linked to the newspaper’s home page.

    For original content, and to get more frequent updates, the citizen webmaster would have the ability to be a content provider, as well.

    As long as there are disclaimers posted, I see no problem with a parent posting baseball scores or football videos for the town of [X], even if that parent has a child on the team.

    People are going to post this stuff anyway, might as well try to tie it to the newspaper’s work. Put the “community” back in “community newspapers.”

    Once a month, all of the citizen webmasters would meet at the newspaper for basic journalism training, critiques, and to discuss new Web technologies.

    As for archives, Pat, you’re right. I can’t think of a cheap, easy solution for small-town news markets. Is the public still going to a library for this stuff?

  • Chip Oglesby

    I want to agree with Joe. I think that smaller community newspapers such as those owned by Landmark (LCNI) might stand a better chance at increasing their presence online.

    With smaller community newspapers, they stand a much better chance because they’re already ‘hyper-local’ and most only cover their neighborhoods.

    It wouldn’t be hard to get the community involved by setting up a multi-user WordPress blog for small towns and communities and really pushing the content like Andrew suggested using Youtube, Kyte, Flickr, facebook and Myspace.

    And while you’re right, they do usually have the worst websites, they are also less likely to employ someone who could help them turn their product around. I believe the reason why this happens is that everyone wants to flock to the largest daily newspapers without even considering working for a smaller outfit because of the prestige of being able to say that I work for the “XYZ” newspaper.

    The best part about community newspapers is their coverage of high school sports. This is where I really see community newspapers succeeding. Their coverage is unmatched where larger daily newspapers usually miss the point.

    I think the point that you should be making is: small town newspapers should be afraid of mobile internet. Technology is always the last thing to hit small towns with newspapers who have a circulation of less than 30k/Daily. They should be afraid because when the big push for mobile tech hits, they aren’t going to be ready.

  • I like these ideas. To test it out before jumping in, as many may be fearful…there could be an open call for content. Spend some time soliciting submissions and gauge the interest. People love to submit their photos, particularly when it involves their kids and sports.
    Can you say Beta? This could start tomorrow.

  • “This is a perfect opportunity
    for entrepreneurs to move in
    and defeat a weak enemy
    and give people a better product
    at the same time.”

    They’re only “the enemy” because they choose to be,
    because they refuse to listen to the truth.

    They don’t have to be the enemy,
    they could just as easily be the ally,
    but only if they would listen to reason.

    Journalists who can’t nose-out the truth terrify me,
    but journalists who can’t handle the truth, really really terrify me.

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  • The third video in the video gallery is a 1-hour long speech
    that RFK Jr. gave last Sunday
    at the Forecastle Festival.

    How does this work as a package/product?
    Is it too mediocre or is it better than “the enemy’s” product?