The New Richmond.com
I was lunching today with Dave Saunders, the mastermind behind the new Richmond.com ad campaign.
While wolfing down Fish and Chips at Penny Lane, the topic of conversation turned in a familiar direction. The discussion of the future viability of newspapers raised its hand, asking to be recognized yet again. This subject matter is far from academic in a market where the fate of a venerable 150 year old newspaper is far from certain.
The conversation reminded me of a recent article I had read about The Bakersfield Californian, which continues to lead in the nascent field of newspaper innovation. The Californian is experimenting with web-based niche publications. The paper launched Bakotopia.com, a local social media network designed to reach non-readers. The network has launched Bakotopia-The Magazine, published twice monthly and distributed to 20,000. The Californian has also launched Printcasting.com, which allows locals to publish their own on-line magazines. Other media companies are aggregating local content from a variety of sources and selling ads against that content.
Whether or not these efforts succeed is not the point. The fact that newspapers are trying to find new business models speaks volumes to their struggle to survive. Newspapers have been the poster child for how arrogance and inertia can kill a pillar of the community. There is a window of opportunity for change and innovation, but that window is closing.
I’ve blogged on this topic before and I believe that like the strategy adopted by The Californian, newspapers are in the best possible position to create social networks based on geography and they should attack this opportunity with gusto. There is a ton of local content available from websites and bloggers, just waiting to be aggregated and monetized.
I think that daily newsprint is short-lived and that dailies will go web-only, publishing and distributing paper versions a couple of times a week to accommodate advertisers who need physical delivery of their ads. Web-based papers should morph into news and social networking sites, creating conversations between the paper, advertisers and readers.
Conversations create relationships and building relationships is what media does best.
A recent article in Forbes found that despite massive job losses in journalism, journalism school admissions are booming. College students are seldom accused of being practical, but this boom borders on lunacy.
Consider these ugly facts about the status of journalism: The Pew Research Center estimates that 5,000 newspaper jobs were lost in 2008. Paper Cuts reports that 7,500 jobs have been lost so far this year. Here in Richmond, the Richmond Times-Dispatch dismissed 28 news room staffers on April 2nd.
So why in the name of Edward R. Murrow would top j-schools like my alma mater University of Maryland be seeing a 25% increase in enrollment?
Each student may have different motives for entering j-school and many may be doing so to enter the field of teaching. But regardless of their reasons, a j-school degree offers some very real benefits to those entering affiliated fields such as public relations and marketing communications as well as less obvious careers such as law, public service, non-profits and even many areas of business.
J-schools teach students to be skeptical and to ask questions like journalists and to communicate effectively with all audiences. Those are certainly great traits. But the one intangible that I think is most valuable about a journalism school education is that it instills an active intellectual curiosity about the world around us that fuels our enthusiasm for life. I have found that curiosity and enthusiasm to be invaluable.
The Social Media Dance
Here’s a great story about the power of social media.
Last week I was headed to a meeting with Ron Carey, VP of the Targeted Solutions Group at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Ron greeted me in the lobby and as we made our way to the first floor conference room, he mentioned that this blog had been forwarded to him that same morning by Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RTD. Ron then suggested we hop on the elevator and go up to see Tom. I was a bit bewildered as to how Tom had stumbled across this humble effort, but I know enough to “go with it” when something positive happens.
When we arrived at the publisher’s office, Tom greeted me warmly and explained that he had found my blog thusly: I had commented on an article on the RTD’s website the previous day. Tom saw my comment, was intrigued and googled my name. He came across this blog and its then lead story, “The Top 7 Things Newspapers Need to Do to Survive.” He said he found the post interesting and forwarded it to Ron. Ron agreed that it was indeed an interesting post and it gave him some things to consider.
Nobody gave me a new car or a million dollars, but for us bloggers, knowing that anyone is reading our writing, much less the publisher of the 150 year-old local daily, is the affirmation that warms our soul and keeps us writing.
Beyond the warm fuzzies I felt knowing that this blog had been a topic of conversation in the hallowed halls of Richmond journalism, I was pleased to know that my writing here had helped to facilitate and enhance important business relationships. That’s goodwill that money can’t buy.
And that’s the power of social media. Blogs and other social media platforms have the power to start conversations and create relationships that might otherwise not exist. Now that’s powerful!