Can We Be Friends? Local Papers Building Better Relationships Online

Article ImageWith the rise of online classifieds, the internet is often seen as a direct competitor to local newspapers. However, in order to survive, many news organizations are figuring out that the internet actually needs to become a trusted ally.

"Today, newspapers are facing declining circulation and decreasing ad revenue and the web is the salvation for the newspaper industry," says John Girard, CEO of Clickability, a web content management (WCM) system provider. "We see a seismic change going on in the newspaper industry." Matthew Barkoff, director of sales and strategic accounts at Clickability, points out that "one reason that newspaper circulation is down is that similar content on the internet is free."

Certainly, people gravitate toward newspaper websites' free content, but there's more to the content equation today. According to Girard, it has become paramount for newspaper owners to adapt their content for the web instead of merely re-purposing it. "Newspaper owners realized that they needed to be online four or five years ago, but now you see in citizen journalism, it's starting to drive traffic and real online revenues," says Girard. 

However, delivering content online, even with increased user participation, does not guarantee ad revenue; a significant factor is how much organizations allot for investing in web infrastructure. "The real issue here is that it wasn't clear to anyone how rapidly the web landscape would continue to change—and how expensive it would be to keep up with that change if you built yourself or installed and maintained a commercial product," says Girard. "Given the information they had, it was a very rational choice for news organizations to invest a smaller amount of dollars in online. There weren't really platforms in the marketplace years ago that were built on extensibility." With online tools offered by WCM systems, news organizations are working to not only maintain online viewership but track what part of its site is receiving more page views than others. Integrated content analytics permit everyone, not just IT people, to make corrections or updates to the site in real time. "This approach helps daily editors and contributors," explains Girard. "Before, we used to have to wait until the end of the month to get a hold of reports about analytics. Now, in addition to publishing content, editors can see in real time what if anything needs to be fixed or moved." 

Last June, The McClatchy Co. acquired The Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Penn., through its acquisition of Knight-Ridder, Inc. The Times Leader was subsequently sold to the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Co. Inc. The new ownership of The Times Leader overhauled the old content management system from Knight-Ridder and sought a new WCM with Clickability, enabling The Times Leader to adapt its content with RSS feeds, rich media, and newsletter creation capabilities in one place.

"A lot of news organizations are at a point where their sites need to take on a life of their own," says Kathy Schwartz, VP of audience and new product development at the Wilkes-Barre Publishing Co. 

The Beacon Journal is another former Knight-Ridder entity that The McClatchy Co. acquired and then sold to a private publisher. The Akron Beacon Journal felt it needed to have a Web 2.0 aspect on its website in an attempt to engage its online viewership. "Community publishing solutions are important in order to have dialogue between the readers and the news," says Linda Lyell, VP of online operations at Beacon Journal

Girard notes that The Times Leader and Akron Beacon Journal sought Clickability's help for its WCM solution but were specifically interested in tools for collecting and publishing web content. "Imagine, for instance, a high school journalism class that begins submitting stories to the paper on high school sporting events, and you get the idea where that concept might start," says Girard.

"I have been really surprised to find at these former KR properties that they are very entrepreneurial and very passionate about their mission to deliver the best local content to a local audience," says Girard. "I get the sense that our customers felt constrained under a larger corporate umbrella and now they feel that they have more freedom in the web space." 

Nobody can predict with certainty the impact that the internet will have on local newspapers, but Girard believes "newspapers are going to look very different five years from now." He says, "It's nothing short of survival of an industry that's at stake here." 


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