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Innovation and Newspapers as Socio-economic Platforms

Posted by Joe Antle on July 1, 2020 1:05 PM EDT
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I was recently asked if there is a great benefit to my role as a healthy living advocate for improved community health from my years of experience (almost thirty years, but who is counting)......

....and I said that there is much value in that, albeit somewhat indirectly.

The friend who asked me that said that he thought the role of newspapers back in my day (80's, 90's and 2000's to 2010) was to be the community advocate for very important issues that face the local community and a sounding board and promoter of great things that are working-not just bad news about things that aren't working.  He even said that the local newspaper industry should be a promoter of innovation-perhaps not just a chronicler of innovation but an entity that would spur innovation forward.  

How could improving local community healthy living and recovery from recoverable health issues such as mental health, substance abuse, obesity, diabetes 2 and others not be at the top of the list-especially in times where we need to find better ways to improve community access and balance social inequity around such issues.  In his mind, prosperity, education, civic engagement, and good health should all be interwoven in a more entrepreneurial and innovative fashion. 

I told him about the collective impact concept promoted by the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR).  He asked a few questions and then he said, "Bravo!".  We discussed the newspaper industry's bold initiative called Newspaper Next and Newspaper Next 2.0 that was sponsored by industry leaders and conducted and communicated throughout the newspaper industry between 2006 through 2011 by the American Press Institute (API).  I even sent him the two links below for reference to API's work which was done with none other than Dr. Clayton Christensen and his colleagues at Innosight.  He said "Splendid".

Collective Impact (SSIR): https://ssir.org/articles/entry/collective_impact

Newspaper Next (API): https://www.americanpressinstitute.org/training-tools/newspaper-next-blueprint-transformation/

A few weeks after this polite but increasingly robust exchange occurred, my good friend then asked a final and tough question.  He asked:  Well what would you recommend that newspapers (and other locally-oriented media) do to regain prominence, economic and financial health and play the central "local information connection utility" (licu) role that was advocated by SSIR through collective impact and by the API through its Newspaper Next initiative"|?".

And here's what I wrote back to him (italics):

"Yes. So, here’s the answer to the newspaper industry now. Publish the newspaper only on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. No national or world news unless there is a “hard” local or regional angle. Sell “SMB business builder” packages that are “bundles” of print, online, email and “events presence” advertising AND cloud-based CRM licenses priced at $99, $179, $299 and “customized” per month. Also, sell business builder consulting services for $150 per hour.  If they could execute this simple “integrated/comprehensive” revenue growth strategy well enough to penetrate 20% of all regional SMBs and nonprofits at a monthly average recurring “subscription” rate of $199/mo then it’s an annual revenue run rate of $24 million at a 35% gross margin. Not hard. What’s left to lose?  What SMB could not afford $199/mo for an integrated complete toolset?

At 35% penetration and $299/mo in ten regions, it’s a huge number. And their newspaper would itself become more profitable given the loss of money-losing days-Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. And be much, much more relevant-100% local/regional news and information for civically-engaged, active, educated homeowners who care about their communities.

Yep. Sad story. The thing is every healthy local newspaper’s website is a nicely profitable business. Maybe around $10M in revenue, give or take?  Just not enough to make up for the Mon., Tues., Thurs., Friday and Sat. newspaper profit loss, I suspect.  That’s why I say the Tribune folks should go to twice-weekly and cover the stories that are truly hyper-local. It’s late...but not too late.  Become a “must-read” again. After all, nobody else can be a local newspaper-too many big barriers to entry.

However, economic and financial health for newspapers is just the beginning of the full recovery needed for the industry to recapture its critical role in helping  drive civic engagement and in improving local communities, making them better places to live, work, play and raise a family.  They need to be the promoters and the chroniclers of the things that are working.  And newspapers need to capitalize on the fact that no other organization can be them-they need to leverage their natural barriers to entry and leverage that to improve the focus and clarity of what they are about, enhance their websites and digital tools even more and determine what they won’t do which is continue to publish non-local news that is already old the minute you read it and is published in thousands of other places online.  Lastly, they need to be so relevant and indispensable to the new target market defined as civically-engaged people who want their communities to be healthier, wealthier and wiser and who will invest time, talent, money, and influence in that collective pursuit.  In short, local newspapers, their websites, their forums and events and their other digital and human-enabled offerings must become that platform that “linksu”  (local information news, knowledge, sharing utility)” to the things that enable a local community to be all that it can be.


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