Why be like the competition?
John Dvorak, in this column for MarketWatch, asks an important question that I have asked myself on occasion: Why do newspapers strive to be like other newspapers?
In the marketplace of news, in which national and international news are available to anyone anytime, why do local newspapers, especially ones the size of the Savannah Morning News (circulation 50,000), continue to run news stories that everyone already knows about. Why is there so much redundancy in journalism? As Dvorak writes:
The only papers or news organizations that can expect to survive will be those with lots of original content available only at their individual sites. The operations that rely more on universally available news feeds will be at the mercy of a fickle public -- one that doesn't care where they read a particular story, especially if it is the exact same story with the exact same headline.
Why bother providing information that can be more easily accessed via CNN, et al.? What's the point of redundancy? What's the real value to the reader? Shouldn't newspapers be doing everything possible to not be like the others? Have we ever heard of branding?
At the same time, newspaper are cutting newsroom jobs, handicapping their ability to generate unique local content. They rely increasingly on wire stories, which are, of course, the kinds of stories everyone with internet access and 24/7 cable news already knows about.
The wire services used to provide local papers with a wide range of stories that local editors could use to enliven their news mix.
Over time, many newspaper owners saw the savings they could realize from loading up on wire stories while minimizing their original editorial content.
Once the Internet arrived, this model was dead, as the Net revealed that many newspapers weren't actually contributing anything new or unique. The fact that people all over the country subscribe to the New York Times, rather than to a local paper, says it all.
Granted, this is a business-minded approach to journalism, not one made by journalists. But in the absence of a business approach that works, perhaps this is one that should gain traction. In a marketplace in which there is so much same-y information, doesn't it make sense that the publication that offers interesting, long-form, investigative, one-of-a-kind reporting, design and mutli-media be the one people would naturally gravitate toward, because all that can't be found elsewhere?
The choice, it seems, is this: Either newspapers, especially small- to mid-sized papers, shift from redundancy to uniqueness or they inspired what Dvorak notes as the current phenomenon of "too many newspapers."
Once a reader hits a stale site, they're not likely to hit it again.
Why should they? There are now plenty of news sites to choose from. I would argue that there are too many newspapers.
The scene has changed from one of minimonopolies to a sector that's crowded and hypercompetitive.
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