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Let readers see (and edit) their own data

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Work’s been heavy lately. Tomorrow, a post on triaging limited programming resources. (As if there’s some other kind…) Today, a quick suggestion for winning trust: let readers access their own usage data.

Job one, of course, is to start collecting readers’ usage data. Seriously. Let readers know about it, tell them how they’ll benefit, let them opt in or out, but start it right away and do it any way you can.

Job two is inspired by this Fredshouse brainstorm (courtesy Lifehacker): Google should create a digital privacy tool for all its users that would let them view, delete and set expiration dates for all data that’s collected about them.

We should do that, too.

Newspapers should be classifieds clearinghouses

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Everybody and his brother’s startup has a free classified service these days. Even if you’re ignoring all but the bigger players — Craigslist, Base, Edgeio, eBay — who can keep track?

Hint: they’re black and white and read in large but ever-decreasing quantities.

For the moment, newspapers in the smallest markets should probably still be trying to minimize the content that leaks onto competitors’ sites. But in mid-size markets (and, before long, in the smaller ones) papers can keep offering value to classified advertisers by offering a service the big boys don’t: syndication of your ad throughout the Internet. Anybody who pays for a classified should get it listed on all the free sites in addition to the print edition and the newspaper’s Web site.

Three startups called Mpire, vFlyer and Postlets are trying to make this service into an entire business, the
New York Times reports today. (While they’re at it, they check your spelling and suggest an effective layout.)

It’s not clear whether these guys are going to make money for such a relatively simple service. But if newspapers can seed their ads into both the Web-savvy and Web-illiterate markets, they’ll be saving their clients a lot of time.

No time for the staff to do all these postings, you say? Well, I happen to know of three fledgling Web sites who might make great partners for your classified department…

It's not too late to prevent Wal-Martization of the Web

Saturday, February 25th, 2006

Local newspapers shouldn’t yet be running up white flags in the battle for local mindshare.

Responding thoughfully to my recent argument that local newspaper sites must do more than merely gather news, Chris Tolles of comments:

One word –WAL*MART. The idea that a set of local monopolies are going to be maintained in the long run, with the audience increasing its rate of online adoption (where there is little or no brand for a loot of local papers) is a bit of a stretch. … How often does the average 25 year old start looking for a restaurant review on the home page of the local paper, vs. Google?

Chris makes a great point about long-run consolidation. (Hence, by the way, the modest title of this blog.) But I think he overestimates the adoption rate — and the Google loyalty — of “the average 25 year old.” If a newspaper can provide a better restaurant directory than Google, it’s certainly not too late to notify the neighborhood. This goes double in small markets, which are less mobile — and therefore potentially more loyal — than the big one that I assume Chris lives in.

Most local papers have cash flowing out their armpits. Rapid reinvention as local information sites could head off the encroaching Wal-Martization of local content. (This might be engineered at the corporate level.) And that would go a long way toward keeping newspaper brands alive — and their news operations viable — for many years to come.

Chris’s original post closed with the following vision for newspapers (my emphasis):

[N]ewspapers need to build the products their audiences and advertisers want, rather than basing their strategy on a capacity for great journalism and printing pages of classifieds. … The successful newspaper business of 2010 might look a lot like the successful newspaper business of 1910 – and the connection to Pultizer won’t be his prize, but rather his business methods.

I’ve got no problem with changing the business methods. But maybe the difference between Chris and I is that I’m not ready to give up those prizes. And I’m not convinced we have to.

Not yet.

Yahoo says "no thanks" to local news

Sunday, February 19th, 2006

Newspapers shouldn’t celebrate the news that Yahoo doesn’t want to compete with their newsgathering service. They should treat it as a warning.

As the Local Onliner reported the other day, Yahoo News boss Neil Budde told the Software Information Industry Association that he’s happy to rely on local providers for local news:

“We’re not getting into the local news business,” said Budde. … “[O]riginal content will be a small part of what we do.” Mostly, Yahoo just wants to be a “remixer,” like a dance club DJ, he said.

Unfortunately, the local newspaper business is not the dance music business. As I’ve argued, merely reporting the news doesn’t make money. Financially speaking, the crucial service newspapers provide today is connecting advertisers with the proper audiences. Yahoo would love to take that job itself by becoming the portal through which everyone encounters news.

Big profits for Yahoo. Long, slow decline for newspapers.

The better solution is for local papers to devote themselves to remaining the premier portals for information on their local area. They’ve done this in print for years. Now they just need to do it online. And, as Yahoo knows, news content alone won’t be enough.

(By the way: I know blaming a missed update on a PC malfunction is so 1.0, but that is indeed the reason I was absent last weekend. As a result, I’ll be playing catch-up with extra posts over the next few days.)