Duncan Riley: At the end of the war, Newspapers commit ritual suicide

Duncan Riley: At the end of the war, Newspapers commit ritual suicide

Duncan Riley writes at Inquisitr that the Philadelphia Inquirer has set a new policy requiring that all “signature investigative reporting” appear in print before it hits the web site.

Romenesko has a copy of the memo sent to Inquirer staff. The important parts:

Beginning today, we are adopting an Inquirer first policy for our signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features, and reviews of all sorts. What that means is that we won’t post those stories online until they’re in print.

Riley goes on:

The decision rests on two major presumptions that fail miserably. The first is that there is a scarcity of competition therefore people who want the news will have no choice but to buy the paper. Secondly, that anything they write of substance is worthy of buying the print edition to read it first when it will either end up on their website, or will be reported on other websites. Neither hold true.

There may be only one major competitor in Philadelphia (Philadelphia Daily News) but both papers exist in a market that offers national newspapers and a world of online choice. That choice also isn’t restricted to traditional media, with bloggers covering local news as well.

The funny bit to me is that this is exactly the tact that almost every single large metropolitan daily tried in the late 90’s up until about 2004 or so, and frankly, is discussed in every single meeting they have about online editorial policy.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution, as I recall, put the lie to  this as a viable strategy in the early part of this decade, and its been discounted just about everywhere since.

I’ll give the Inquirer credit – at least they are trying to identify what it is that makes them so special, and their investigative reporting is at the top of the list.  I’d suggest they’d be better served to concentrate on how they can wring the most drachmas out of that product, rather than trying to restrict their delivery channels.

The newspapers need to start thinking in exactly those terms:  where is it we have unique and compelling product that has value over everything else that is available.  Then they need to look at how to monetize those products to the highest levels.  The problem is often the old cliche, a carpenter tends to see the solution for every problem to be a hammer.  Newspaper men see the solution to their problems be a printed product.  In truth, the thing that makes newspapers different is their content – which is compelling, well sourced, well written and produces a reliable and repeatable level of quality.

Delivery channels are delivery channels, be they print, web, email, sms or whatever.  If the print media could see that they’re pushing the most costly of the available channels, and think about ways to decrease costs by using the deep content capabilities of the web to their fullest, they just might have a chance.

(Thanks to Jay Cody for pointing this out via the “Newspapers: A Slow March To Exinction” slingcast at slingpage.com – and keep your eye open, I’ll be setting up my own next week for a beta test!)

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