Newspapers are yesterday’s Internet, printed today. I should copyright that phrase or something. It came to me when I was driving to work today and I realized how succinctly gets the point across.
Every time I look at a newspaper — every time — I get this feeling of deja vu, like I already know everything I’m about to read. And then I realize that I read it all the day before. I quickly scan to make sure there’s nothing new and then I move on.
That phenomenon goes to the heart of the matter: The Internet isn’t killing newspapers, but newspapers are failing to adapt. Hell, 70 to 90 percent of what I read online comes from newspapers. So why are they printing it on paper a day after they’ve already published it?
As a newsroom manager, my mantra was always that newspaper journalists cannot just write about what happened, but about what it means. I always pushed for the idea that every story should be written twice: once for the web and once for print. The web story should be the “what happened” part of the story that deserves immediacy. The print version should be how readers are impacted — a forward-thinking enterprise piece that deserves some thought.
Of course, the print piece can make it to the web after it’s printed. But the web piece never makes it to print in my model. A smart newspaper man, however, may never put the print piece online. Here’s why:
Right now, newspapers complain that everyone else is stealing their content. That’s not entirely true. They give every bit of their content away, whether it’s 24-7 coverage of local issues or in-depth enterprise pieces. What the web offers newspapers is the immediacy to compete against TV and radio. But many newspaper stories don’t require immediacy. That big investigation you’ve spent six months on should run in the print edition. You put a teaser online for people to pick up the newspaper for the story. How hard is that?
Unfortunately, more and more, newspapers are either posting to their websites and reprinting the stories the next day or they’re printing stories and posting all the content from that day’s edition as soon as the press stops running. Either way, the paper loses.