The Buffalo News is fumbling towards enlightenment as it pertains to the new media ecosystem. I was going to break this into a series of posts, but I think I’ll slam them all into one post and see what happens…
- A declining subscription base that continues to skew older with each passing year
- A shrinking local economy with fewer and fewer companies able to afford print advertising
- An even smaller subset of companies who are able or willing to advertise to the aging and shrinking newspaper reading demographic
- A legacy cost structure of high salary union contracts in editorial, design, production and delivery of the daily print edition
- Continually escalating costs for materials
- A younger populace that receives their daily news from global outlets in near real-time and who also consumes local content in real time on radio, TV, and local internet sites
- A declining interest in high margin classified advertising as online outlets like Craigslist, E-Bay and dozens of others have taken a controlling share in the market space. This is after niche weeklies and monthlies had eaten away at the fringes of this business for years by offering specialized audiences and lower prices
As discussed on this site last month, Margaret Sullivan, Editor-In-Chief of The Buffalo News is either disavowing knowledge of these realities or is playing them down for the benefit of her audience. Her statement:
- We’re making a profit. The decline in advertising revenue is significant—and likely to get worse— but we’re still in the black and planning to stay that way.
- We have none of the crippling debt that many newspaper owners are carrying. Many of those debt-heavy papers would be making money if it weren’t for their debt load.
- We have extraordinarily high acceptance among local residents. The News, as a print newspaper, has the highest “market penetration” among the 50 or so largest metropolitan dailies in the United States.
- Our Web site is the leading local media Web site, by far, in Western New York. When you combine the Web site and the newspaper, we’re reaching 80 percent of Western New Yorkers on a regular basis.
While Sullivan is correct in stating that The Buffalo News has succeeded in keeping debt to a minimum, the fundamental problem still remains, how do they manage the declining relevance and profitability of the print product while expanding their online revenue by growing their audience?
Will they see the light and realize that a newspaper is a product, not journalism?
The first step to solving a business problem is to admit you have one. The second step is to identify a goal or endpoint against which you will plan. The third step is to lay out a strategic roadmap with measurable goals along the way. The fourth step is to define the tactical steps you will undertake on a daily basis to reach those strategic goals.
If I may be so bold, let me suggest an endpoint for The Buffalo News:
A multimedia, multi-sourced product which features a daily online record of newsworthy events and a small footprint print product that is released 3-4 times per week with converged, in-depth news coverage from multiple outlets and investigative journalism.
Is that something you might be interested in? I’ll gladly contribute to a conversation about the strategy and tactics involved in accomplishing such a vision, if asked. Why? Because journalism is important. It and the medium to which it is currently attached are irretrievably broken and we need to fix it.
The Buffalo News could leverage the near-term security (such as it is) of its existing circulation and market position to truly create a new model for journalism. To reach out to the community and involve them in participatory reporting and crowdsourc research. on long form investigative and feature articles. They could take reporting assignments from the community while working cooperatively with niche publications and citizen journalism websites to meet deadlines. The Buffalo News should expand their use of video while incorporating podcasts and distributed reporting channels like Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube to make a new, relevant, timely and indispensable product. Finally, they should utilize existing social networks like Facebook to draw constant feedback from their audience and insert it directly into the live news gathering process.
Author, Journalist, Professor and new media scion Jeff Jarvis likes to use a chart that demonstrates the “new” news process. It’ll come as a shock to those buried in the existing model of product journalism in which the editors are the gatekeepers.
You see, we are all empowered as reporters. In the “new” news process, we would be using The Buffalo News as a distribution point for journalism that reflects the community, writ large. We will create a product that is less about agenda and is richer in content than what is offered today. And that is journalism in the new media ecosystem.
When Margaret Sullivan and her team are done “Reinventing The Newsroom” without direct involvement from their audience, do you think the final product will resemble anything similar to what I’ve described?