Last week I spoke at America East in Hershey, PA, a conference for newspaper publishers. Numbers of attendees and distributors was down again this year and the general mood can only be described as somber. The vendors I spoke with admitted they weren’t really hoping to make many sales on the conference floor but were there mainly to keep their name in front of folks so they would not be forgotten when companies start spending money.
The vendors who are happy in the newspaper industry? That would be the companies who are refurbishing equipment. Business is booming for them as newspaper publishers try to extend the lives of existing equipment.
But there is a clear desire to put automation into practice, and for the most part companies are thinking beyond automating the pre-press functions, which is probably a good sign. They are interested in learning how to automate their entire content creation and distribution systems. Many companies we talked to are keenly interested in learning new ways to automate the process of converting content designed for print to content for the web. They know the content needs to be searchable, properly formatted and embedded with metadata tags. They want to know how to archive and retrieve the data quickly and securely.
They also want to know how to monetize their web presence, because most ne
wspapers have not yet figured out to do that while some of their non-print web competitors seem to be syphoning off the low hanging fruit at their expense.
The challenge to newspapers from Smartphones and eReaders is real. Instant access to information is vital. But newspapers have been aggregators of content for at least a couple of centuries.
But I wonder if some publishes are not shooting themselves in the foot. They have been cutting staff for local news coverage in favor of plucking news from outside sources. It is the cheap way to go, but it is done at the expense of the value local coverage gives to newspapers. Their newspapers and web sites are filled with state and national news anyone can get elsewhere. Meanwhile web-only competitors are beginning to fill the need for local coverage using content provided by non-professional and sometimes unpaid readers. It boils down to questionable content passing for legitimate news, and publishers of quality news and information are digging themselves a very deep hole.
Good content can still bring in advertising revenues, whether in print or online. Newspapers need to look at their local news content as
their strongest asset and leverage the quality of their reporting against the unprofessional and often questionable content available elsewhere. Throwing other people’s content up on a newspaper web site is not a recipe for successful online competition. Putting up sound journalism can still be more than simply a public service: it can also be profitable.