There’s lots starting to happen in the newspaper industry. One example of newspapers stepping out from their traditional model into something more interesting and daring is Enterprise NewsMedia’s "WickedLocal" online network. This is the "local search" portal for several Enterprise papers in the greater Boston area and obviously quite different from a newspaper site. There are four separate sites related to this portal (encompassing Enterprise’s three local newspapers). "Wicked Local Plymouth" is one example.
I’m a fan of the UI, which is clean, simple and straightforward. I like the search and browse interface and I like the tabs (though some argue that people don’t use tabs). I’m somewhat less enthralled with the way search results are presented. But it’s a significant improvement over most newspaper sites’ search capabilities and results. Planet Discover is behind the WickedLocal search functionality, which seeks to bring together "news, classifieds, real estate, jobs, products and services, cars, newspaper ad content from the publisher’s three newspapers into one search results page." Here’s the full press release.
In addition to the "local search" portal and component of the sites, Enterprise is experimenting with community and blogs. The relationship between blogs and traditional journalism on newspaper sites is still being worked out. (Blogs are more informal and flexible, for example.) Interestingly, The N.Y. Times has been adding blogs (reg. req’d) at a torrid pace.
As I have long said, newspapers have assets that neither directory publishers nor search engines can match in local. But directory publishers and certainly search engines aren’t "conflicted" about executing online. Indeed, the culture of newspapers and a host of subsidiary issues have largely kept them from acting decisively and really making headway online to date. I’m encouraged to see significant movement starting to happen.
At the NAA show in Orlando last month, there was discussion on a panel I moderated about creating new brands/sites online to attract new advertisers and audiences. I argued that newspapers shouldn’t walk away from their brands online. But there are some practical issues here that may justify the creation of new online sites. Newspaper brands are sacrosanct and newspapers may be scared to do anything too daring with their brands online. For that reason, and as a practical matter, it may be necessary to create new sites/brands to take some necessary risks.
I believe that newspapers have to recognize fundamental distinctions between the print and online products. They are not the same, and an effective and competitive local site is not merely an electronic extension of the print product.
Enterprise’s approach, as well as that of McClatchy’s Sacramento.com or the Arizona dailies’ Tucson.com, among several others, may represent the "middle way" in creating a new, more compelling and effective user/advertiser offering while working with the internal "cultural" challenges of the newspaper industry and the inviolability of the newspaper brands.
Related: News Corp. is contemplating using MySpace as a "platform" to add community/social networking features to its newspaper sites. I read about this first in PaidContent, but the link trail goes back to the U.K.-based Guardian newspaper site. The paper quotes Murdoch:
"We see a great opportunity to combine the popularity of Intermix’s sites, particularly MySpace, with our existing online assets to provide a richer experience for today’s internet users."
While community is good for newspaper sites, execution is key.