A redesign is a waste of time and money if it doesn't deliver a return on investment. Download our report to learn how to make your redesign pay off, then see how four newspapers boosted readership and revenue by following our advice.
Brass Tacks Design
Newsrooms have two kinds of big picture guys: guys who like big pictures and guys who see the big picture. They're both journalists, but different as lightning and lightning bugs.
One of my favorite big picture guys is Denis Finley, editor of the The Virginian-Pilot. Back when he was a picture editor, his nickname was “Five-column Finley,” because he wanted every picture to be five columns. Or so it seemed to us on the desk.
Denis has come a long way since then. We need to do the same.
This is no time for narcissism. Newspapers are in a death spiral. We've got to stop pushing our pictures and stories and start doing what needs to be done to save newspapers.
Newspaper Next bills itself as a “blueprint for transformation” and that's exactly what it is. I'm not kidding. For an industry beset with questions, Newspaper Next answers all five “W”s and “H”: What do to, when to do it, where to do it, why to do it, how to do it and who to do it for.
But you'll never read it because it's 96 pages and looks like it was based on the work of a Harvard professor.
Because it was based on the work of a Harvard professor.
So I'll attempt to reduce it to 10 bullet points, because you need to know this:
Disruptive innovation is rocking newspapers.
Businesses that fail to adapt to disruptive innovation go out of business.
If newspapers survive, they'll do so as niche products – one of many delivered by media companies (what we mistakenly call newspapers).
Media companies must develop a portfolio of enterprises that deliver news, information and advertising in many print and electronic forms.
Media companies should develop products and services that target people who need information – including advertising – and businesses that need to reach customers.
Prospects include people and/or businesses with frequent needs that are too difficult, time-consuming or expensive to meet on their own.
Advertisers will shift their budgets toward consumer-direct marketing, lead generation and paid search, and they will manage these campaigns themselves using online tools.
Products need not be perfect. They just need to be good enough and slightly better than alternatives.
These products and services are likely to be built around databases and user-generated content, rather than professional journalism as we know it.
Much of this information will not be created or handled by journalists, sales professionals or anyone else at the media company. The work will be performed by customers providing content and advertisers using online self-service tools.
My bullet points can't do this report justice. So go read it for yourself. All 96 pages.
It's a brave new world – one in which journalists may feel marginalized. Do we have the courage, agility and urgency to adapt and survive?
I wish the Newspaper Next demonstration projects had focused more on products – half of them pursued changes to internal processes. It appears as if only one of seven projects has gone to market and it has not met expectations.
And that's my point. I have seen the enemy and it is us.
Innovation can't be pursued on “nights and weekends” like the effort of the demonstration team from the Dallas Morning News. Innovation must be a top priority – second only to publishing the next day's paper. If newspapers can't staff innovation, they better find another way to make it happen. They can't afford not to.
The concepts at the heart of Newspaper Next are working. See these concepts at work at The Bakersfield Californian, where Ginger Moorhouse, Richard Beene and Mike Jenner have been leadining innovation and developing a portfolio of products for years – and very profitably at that.
Newspapers are dying because most ink-stained wretches still believe it's all about their content and they're in no hurry to change. It seems more likely that we'll change the people in the newsroom – through buyouts, layoffs and changes in ownership – before we'll ever change their attitudes and beliefs.
Even when something great comes along – like Newspaper Next – you hear nothing but grousing from those who stand to benefit. Which reminds me of this quote from the 15th century:
“There is no more delicate matter to take in hand nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful of success, than to step up as a leader in the introduction of change. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well-off under the existing order of things and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.”
Some things never change. Here's a question posted at newsdesigner. The answer comes from a big picture guy – Jay Small, director of online audience and operations for the newspaper division of E.W. Scripps Co.
Asked Josh: “True or false: Aren't we in the business of attracting readers to our product?”
“False, Josh. If that's our mission, I'm ready for that long-anticipated jump to a front-line job in the food services industry.”
“First, what we do is not a “product.” News, information, advertising ... all services. Pizza is a product, but its delivery is a service. All the printed newspaper, or a Web site, is is a delivery method ”
“A redesign project has to be holistic: news and ads, retail and classified, print and online, operations and business. Reinvention is more like it. I still hope the design community steps up to that much bigger challenge, and soon.”
I'd go a step further than Jay: We're not in the business of attracting readers, Josh, we're in the business of making money. That's why it's called a business.
And personally, I prefer to be in business than out of business.