Dan Gillmor posts that newspapers are "trapped -- highly profitable businesses that can't or won't take the kind of risks that will be crucial to survival." He's looking for "ways to combine the best of the old and the new" to help newspapers and ensure a vibrant future for journalism.
Dan's right that newspapers are trapped. Newspapers used to have a local monopoly on distribution of news, local advertising, and classifieds that generated extraordinary profits. Online sites have created a disruptive new distribution channel. Some newspapers are responding by grasping for their fading monopoly -- throwing up barriers to online and restricting access to their content -- but that will only cause it to slip away faster.
Instead, newspapers should focus on their advantage, a unique understanding of their local market. No one can do local reporting better than newspapers. No one has more experience dealing with local advertisers than newspapers. By focus on their competitive advantage, newspapers can benefit from new distribution channels.
For example, the San Jose Mercury News should be the world experts on Silicon Valley and Silicon Valley businesses. The Seattle PI should be the world experts on the Puget Sound, including Boeing and Microsoft. Newspapers should focus on what they do better than anyone else. They should embrace the new distribution channels to provide their content to the world.
I'm not alone in believing this is the future. Tom Curley (CEO, AP) made a similar prediction at the Online News Association Conference a few months ago.
So, how can the online media help newspapers? Online news aggregators like Findory provide one example. Findory shows short excerpts of news content from thousands of sources. We direct readers to the newspaper websites to read the full articles.
We see ourselves as having two customers, the readers of our sites and the providers of our news. We help our readers find interesting and relevant news. We help newspapers find readers for their content. We are new media helping old media and old media helping new. The combination makes it easier for readers to get the information they need.