Newspaper Next 2.0: The ‘Local Info and Connection Utility’

newspapernext.jpg I liked the 2003-2007 concept of a “local info hub.” The idea was to think beyond the original business boundaries of newspapers (and Yellow Pages). Now that concept has been fancifully enlarged to a “local info and connection utility.”

The redefinition is included in Newspaper Next 2.0, a “progress report” by the American Press Institute on the evolution of newspaper companies beyond the print edition. The report, which is free, comes out just as it has been reported that the Los Angeles Times has seen its revenues drop from $240 million to $150 million in the past two years.

The report’s general theme is that communities in the digital era have complex needs and have outgrown the simple news mission of their local newspapers. It is a 110-page sequel to a September 2005 report (which was in itself a generalized extension of newspaper “disruptive technology” research that I had a hand in, along with Harvard Business School’s Clark Gilbert and Borrell Associates).

The new report, which includes a lot of Borrell data, may not be especially fresh or insightful to our readers, but it is a helpful guide to new models for newspapers to follow, such as Angie’s List, Kudzu.com and Wikipedia. It includes 24 interesting case studies, which make it worth downloading all by themselves. A lot of it is about doing a better job connecting with local businesses; kind of a “how to” guide to becoming better Internet Yellow Pages.

I think that’s right on. That is the most obvious direction for newspapers to grow in. The metro-wide model that developed to serve the retail industry, in competition with television, isn’t cutting it anymore.

The big takeaway of the report is to move away from the newspaper industry’s current focus on “niche sites” (which I don’t quite get) and focus instead on “mega jobs” that incorporate many local media models (newspaper, Yellow Pages, SEO and coupons, etc.) Examples include mom sites, young adult sites, B2B sites and pet sites (hey, aren’t these niche sites?)

It is a “whole market” concept. The idea, in an era when newspapers are typically seeing circulation levels of between 20 percent and 40 percent, is to relentlessly pursue non-customers.

“These are jobs that virtually every consumer, regardless of demographic, wants to get done, and jobs that virtually every business, regardless of size, sector or customer group, struggles to accomplish … [The new newspaper company] sets out to learn what jobs are most frequent and frustrating among consumers, and it gradually builds a suite of products and services to fulfill those many jobs, using such elements as databases, social networking and discussion software, user content-sharing tools, calendars, shopping support functions, knowledge repositories and more. Step by step, the company moves toward its goal of helping consumers with whatever they need to live in their community, becoming their local information and connection utility.”

The report has a better fix on consumer-oriented solutions than business solutions. But that’s not surprising for a newspaper industry (i.e., editorial-driven) product. If the Yellow Pages Association commissioned similar research, it would probably be the other way around.

API says 6,000 newspaper managers have been exposed to the original Newspaper Next findings. That’s progress, isn’t it? Maybe some people will be talking about it next week at the Newspaper Association of America Marketing conference in Orlando.

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