Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Shooting for 'good enough'

For every “expert” on the business of journalism and the broader world of media there’s a strategy, a clear indication that everyone involved in the media world – from journalists to news consumers to advertisers – is still trying to figure out the next steps.

So it was interesting to find this nugget on Lost Remote, a blog devoted to television:

“A paid content revolution is under way at newspapers across America … It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this is an unusual opportunity for (TV) stations to go after audiences frustrated with the new restrictions.”

Then comes this surprising admission:

“Newspaper folks will be quick to point out they produce a higher quality and frequency of online coverage. This is certainly the case in most markets, but local TV stations can attract a larger share by stepping up coverage a notch and marketing themselves as a free and everywhere alternative.”

The blog’s recommendation is for local TV stations to essentially become “newspaper lite,” including a suggestion to “… redesign your sites to be lighter, more responsive and a bit more ‘newspapery’ while still showcasing video.”

The goal, the blog writer suggests, is not to attempt to replicate newspapers but to become provide “good enough coverage across a broader array of content and platforms.”

Newspaper types should be flattered, I reckon.

Pay walls (an unfortunate term – I prefer “subscriber-based business model”) are nothing new, particularly in Idaho, where newspapers like the Post Register, Lewiston Tribune and Moscow-Pullman Daily News have charged for online access for a decade now. Other serious journalism organizations, however, are just now coming around to the realization that reporting that goes beyond “good enough” is expensive and can’t just be given away on a web site.

Ultimately, the alternatives boil down to a choice between “good enough” journalism provided to the consumer for free or journalism important enough to compel people to pay a little for it.

The truth is, there remains room in local markets for a variety of competing media. TV can be more immediate, is free (well, unless you’re watching on cable) and simple to consume. Newspapers go deeper and wider, containing as much local information in a single edition as a week’s worth of TV newscasts.

The Idaho Statesman recently announced it would be implementing a subscriber-based business model and some of the local TV stations went a little loopy, running commercials suggesting that the good people of southwestern Idaho should be offended at the very thought of having to pay for local news from a web site.

I don’t know how the Statesman has responded, but I have a suggestion – post a running tally of local information items appearing in the paper compared to the number on TV. The message would become crystal clear.

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