An open Letter to the newspapers of the world

One journalism student's plea for print newspapers to get with the times.

By freshman Arman Azad

Dear Newspapers,

You don’t have to die. You have so much ahead of you – so much to look forward to. There is so much you can do – so much you can become. You’re just a small child in the digital world with so much potential. You can take on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself, waiting for your final, lethal dose of morphine. You have to step it up. You may have lost the battle, but you haven’t lost the war…yet.

Here’s the thing: You are award winning. You are reputable. You are the gold standard. The only problem is, people just don’t care about that anymore. Sure, the older generation may read you daily, but can’t rest the future of your entire industry on the backs of one small group of individuals. Instead, you need to think out of the box, take chances, and most importantly, give some things up.

It’s time to face the hard truth: Your current business model sucks, in today’s world at least. It’s simply not a viable, sustainable plan. You still believe that newspapers are the only source of true, hard, scholarly news, and although that may be true, people just don’t care about your intelligence anymore. And they surely aren’t going to pay $15 a month for it.

Therefore, I offer to you a compromise: Keep doing what you do, keep writing your articles, and maintain your reputation, but communicate it to the public in a vastly different way. In five years, in conjunction with an expected surge in Internet use, very few, if any, people will read your articles on a piece of printed paper. Instead, they will access them through a web browser, a tablet, or their mobile device. Because of this, you need to plan to make revenue solely through these mediums. You cannot rely on print anymore – it is simply a lost cause.

So what do you do? Force your readers to pay fifteen dollars a month just to read an article? Sure, you could try that, but you’ll probably find that your readers will just click over to CNN.com and read the same article there, for free. The fact of the matter is that you cannot expect your audience to pay for something they can receive somewhere else for free. Just like in every other industry – wherein people consistently choose the free option over the paid option when both satisfy one’s needs – the newspaper industry is no different. Charging readers is not an option.

Plan B: Advertising. Although you are accustomed to receiving revenue via subscription fees in addition to advertising fees, you simply will no longer have the former. The latter must be able to satisfy all your needs – and it can. You just have to be smart, witty, and intelligent.

The Huffington Post is the number one political website in the world as rated by eBizMBA Rank – a list based on a site’s Alexa Global Traffic Rank (an Internet analytics company) and a site’s U.S. Traffic Rank from creditors Compete and Quantcast. “The Internet Newspaper,” as The Huffington Post refers to itself, never charges its users a penny. It is completely free to browse, discuss on, and share. Recently, it even unveiled HuffPost Live, its very own broadcast programming. Acquired by AOL in 2011 for $315 million, the Huffington Post has undergone an incredible expansion. Its success has largely been attributed to its free model, successful advertising, and its social features.

From time to time, the Huffington Post will feature a “sponsor generated post,” – a term used across many blogs that has recently become prevalent in online news portals. In its most basic sense, this refers to an article that a company or organization paid to be published (and most likely wrote). The article’s intentions are clearly stated, and the word “advertisement” is plastered across the sponsored posts. There is no confusion among readers that the content in said articles has been paid for by groups for commercial purposes, but nevertheless, it brings in millions upon millions of dollars for the Huffington Post. In order to succeed, newspapers should allow sponsors to publish content on their websites as long as it is clearly labeled as such.

Another realm in which The Huffington Post succeeded was that of social networking. HuffPost integrated social sharing just days after Facebook unveiled its “Open Graph,” a system that allows external websites to use one’s Facebook data and post on his or her behalf (with permission). As a result, more than a million people share Huffington Post articles every day on Facebook alone, according to the website. One newspaper that has caught on is the Washington Post, with the publication’s Social Reader. As any Flint Hill student can tell you, the “trending among friends” feature of the Social Reader is consistently at the top of their news feed – telling users of the social network what friends are reading, and as a result, what they should read.

You should focus on small revenue margins (such as just $0.50 cents per ad) but large viewership, a model that has led to enormous profits for online news organizations such as CNN, NBC, and The Huffington Post. What you shouldn’t do is charge your readers for content that they can receive for free elsewhere. Recently, this writer purchased a New York Times digital subscription for $15 a month. Luckily, after a day with the content, he decided to cancel his order after the realized the exact same content – usually even better – was available for free on the competing site washingtonpost.com. By paying for this material, he realized that he was locking himself into one news organization and he felt guilty when reading another website. Later, he got annoyed that The Times only let him read 10 articles a month, eventually turning him away from the site, and its brand as a whole, due to its inherently irritating nature. Such “features” should explain why nytimes.com has consistently lost online viewership, while competing sites such as washingtonpost.com and huffingtonpost.com have experienced exponential growth, according to Alexa rankings.

In conclusion, my dearest newspaper, it is time to let go of the past. It is time to give up your ever-so-successful profit margins (of the 50’s) and it’s time to give up your print subscribers. It is, however, the time to bring your readers up-to-the-minute online updates on breaking news. It is the time to bring advertising into the 21st century. It is the time to invest in motion graphics. It is the time to hire a web designer, not a print layout designer. It is the time to live-stream major events to your homepage. It is the time to create Facebook and Twitter pages for your readers.

It is time to recycle the newspaper.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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