Friday, September 9, 2011

Here we go again

Most newspapers have a Facebook page, and many use the page to post news updates.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why.

This issue goes way back to the start of the Internet. In those days, newspapers were in the enviable position of having a 100 percent paid readership that provided roughly 20 percent of their revenue. Enter the Internet, and newspapers managers panicked, creating web sites and dumping that precious news on the sites for free.
It’s an old story now – most newspapers have some sort of online subscription model nowadays, but it took 15 years to get there. Incredibly, some newspapers are now making the same mistake with Facebook.

I was reminded of this today when one of the Post Register’s Facebook friends asked for a news update about smoke in the air. I have “Liked” all of the Idaho newspapers with Facebook pages, and I’m astounded at how many of them use this social medium to deliver news updates.

What’s the upside to the newspaper? The implied message is, “Don’t subscribe to our newspaper; just ‘like’ our Facebook page and we’ll keep you up to date on breaking news.”

That’s just as crazy as giving their news away on their own home pages. Why is it that newspapers are so likely to fumble with new technology?

Many of us jumped on the Groupon bandwagon when it was the latest great thing, even though it was our competitor and brought nothing to our table. The same was true of deals with Google, Yahoo, Monster and other online operations that scared us to death. Rather than competing, we made like President Obama and cut a deal.

Most of those deals turned out to be very bad for newspapers and very good for the “partners.” Some are now openly speculating that Groupon is headed for big trouble. Still, newspapers swoon with every new suitor. 

I propose, as I have in the past, that part of the problem is that we’re afraid to be seen as old-fashioned if we don’t embrace every new technology or online-based product that comes down the pike. Rather than allowing ourselves to be smeared as technophobes, we abandon common sense and hop in bed with every enemy that emerges from the shadows. Many of us are still sending reporters out with video cameras to post online video versions of stories – lousy ones, at that.

Technology has disrupted the newspaper business model in a big way. The huge profits of the second half of the 20th Century are gone forever. But the core of the model still works – do local news and advertising better than anyone else, demand a fair price for your product, run an efficient, imaginative business, and you’ll succeed.

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