My last post appealed to the Eeyore in you. This one appeals to your inner Tigger. (I can’t write that without hearing Tigger’s voice: “T-I-DOUBLE GUH-ER”)
Unfortunately, it’s hard not to imagine the continued collapse of traditional newspapers (read the Bee’s lament, here – which, tellingly, was a reprint from another publication). As Sandy (she with the fresh new media graduate degree) pointed out, “The real estate and automotive industries have basically been the only thing supporting the ‘meatspace’ newspapers but as money gets tighter in those industries they also have been moving pretty quickly to the online environment.”
So here’s what I would consider a “good” scenario for news distribution. And why do I consider it optimistic? Because change shakes up the hierarchy. Organizations that don’t “get it” will lose ground with their intended audiences, and organizations – even small ones – will gain ground if they are fast-moving and seize upon emerging opportunities.
- Some newspapers will be left standing but they will become regionals or nationals. The New York Times is certain to be among them. With a strong national content delivered both print and online, these stalwarts will be positioned to expand online into large metro markets, a la www.chicago.nytimes.com. (Don’t try to follow that if it appears as a link – I’m hypothesizing!)
- Likewise, there will be at least one strong news-oriented radio station and relatively strong TV news program. (The economics of radio are more favorable for radio than TV, but I expect at least one TV news program to survive.)
- The Jon Stewartization of news will continue, merging somewhere along the way with personality-based radio shows. Just imagine the opportunities associated with juxtaposing info about your favorite cause alongside the banter of morning radio anchors, such as Mark and Mercedes’ recent discussion about what proportion of people will pee in the shower or use the “farmer’s hankie” (100.5 The Zone, here in Sacramento).
- On television, look for a similar “View-ization” or “Oprah-ization” of local, personality-based shows that incorporate current issues and events. In Sacramento, Good Day Sacramento probably is the furthest along in this direction.
- News outlets are all aggressively trying to incorporate the other mediums for communications, and to prompt dialogue. The Sacramento Bee now has a small battalion of bloggers that they’ve recruited to blog about everything from sports to technology to non-profits. (Watch for United Way’s Gabrielle Stephenson’s posts.) “The Swarm” blog is aimed at letting you “mix it up” with The Bee’s editorial board although it sure looks like more telling than listening to me. The Bee’s Forum has an online component where the editor moderates discussion each week. CNN is turning the we’ll-tell-you-what-we-think-and-you-comment model on its head with ireport. CNN is using a website and a Facebook page as a way of collecting ideas for stories directly from the audience and then turning it into a news report. While the show is on the air, they show comments coming in from these live sources as they speak. The proverbial tail wags the dog.
- People who really need to understand something deeply will find good sources. They’ll find bloggers or publications (online or offline) that they trust. Or hire consultants to acquire and consolidate good information as a time-saver. Most likely, they’ll pay — or at least pay more — for the access.
- They’ll also find sources that cater to their specific interests. They might subscribe to an online political publication, a car e-newsletter and a local restaurant review blog. (And they’ll miss the convenient good-old days when they could get most of that in the local paper.)
- They’ll also turn to people that they trust. Opinion-leaders will be the people with lots of followers on Twitter, large numbers of readers to their blogs, and so on. Sure, they’ll be the standard cadre of grass-tops (people who know people in office) but we’ll also be looking for people who just seem to know what the heck is going on with respect to social and demographic trends, technology, the economy, politics and so on.
And I’ll throw in some related trends that may smerge with these media developments:
- Search(a la Google) will continue to be massively important because people will have to seek and find information.
- As people get back to basics in a down economy, they will continue to try to support the things they already care about — education, for example. They may try to give more to offset those who are giving less, or they may volunteer more to make up for what they cannot give.
- After years of “thinking globally” messages, a “hyper local” trend will emerge. More than local-vores or buying local, this will be an upsurge in concern about one’s own community as economic threats to local communities become more evident. One doesn’t need Oprah to notice the shuttered storefronts.
- The use of “readers” and personalized home pageswill grow. If you can’t get the information you care about in one convenient cover, or through one news outlet, you’re going to have to find multiple worthwhile sources. But managing them through your email inbox will quickly become untenable. Imagine a home page with blocks you create where you can see the headlines from all of the sources you care about. You’d read it in the morning, like a Kindle, but with customized content. (And, PS, you’ll be able to use your Kindle or your iphone if you don’t want to sit at your computer screen.)
Here are some strategies that a non-profit might pursue in this new post-newspaper world. But before I do that, refresh your memory with the list of strategies in the “bad/ugly” scenario post (you should see a line at the top of this post with yesterday’s title and an arrow point to the left). THOSE STRATEGIES ALL APPLY HERE, TOO. And here’s that tip again: you can’t do all of these; choose those you think could differentiate your organization and would deliver the greatest impact for the least amount of time and money.
- Ugh. (I recoil a bit at this one.) Start thinking of news-light ways to get your message across. If you want to reach a younger demographic, how can you create an activity that is quirky, fun or just plain silly enough to warrant people posting about it on their Facebook wall or talking about it on The Zone during the morning hours? Almost every single news outlet right now is actively looking for “silver lining” or inspirational stories to offset the doom-and-gloom stories that are making their audience tune out.
- So the news media wants to start a conversation with us. Be prepared with spokespersons – some staff, some volunteer – who are familiar with your message and facile in particular formats. Have your “fun, hip” spokesperson ready for news-light TV and radio. Have an expert ready for more serious news features. Have a Spanish-speaking spokesperson prepped for Univision. Have a left-leaner and a right-leaner (looks like some of those who have given up on newspapers felt they weren’t balanced and were too liberal.) Have someone else who’s a whiz with blogging tracking and jumping in on news websites (and have them do it often). Seems to me it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to find one or even two spokespersons that are attractive to, and good at, the full range of formats from radio to TV to print and online.
- Anticipate that more unauthenticated negative comments will be made about your cause or organization and ramp up your organizational listening. More self-published reporters mean fewer editors – editors who used to insist on fact-checking. Come to an internal point of view about when you will correct the record and when you will simply count on short attention spans and let stuff slide (for example, when you are dealing with a blogger who likes to rant – or Rush Limbaugh).
- Make your website more of a destination – which means enhancing content. If you’re a food closet, for example, can your website become a credible source of information about hunger in general? If you’re United Way, how can you showcase the many causes and organizations in a local community? Can you recruit citizen journalists to help you develop a stronger voice for a particular group or cause? Or maybe pay some of those unemployed journalists as freelancers?
- Start thinking about who the new local opinion leaders may be, and cultivate a relationship with them (ideally: a face-to-face one). Whose emails are often forwarded to you? Who gets quoted in conversations? How can you make them knowledgeable about your cause or organization? (PS one of the best approaches is to ask for their input or feedback.)