If you were to start a newspaper today, well – you wouldn’t. But if you wanted to go into the news business – or if your organization is launching an audience-focused content strategy – you’d be sure to have a focus. You’d match your content to the audience, and try to stay true to an editorial promise. If you were smart about it, you wouldn’t try to go a mile wild; you’d try to go a mile deep. Which brings us to the newspaper business, and especially the newspapers in Philadelphia.
Figuring out business plans for journalism and models of information delivery is important for all of us – journalists, content marketers, and consumers of information.
The newspaper situation in Philadelphia is a mess. If you live here, you know that. If you don’t, here’s the skinny – two factions of owners are fighting for control of the Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com. They seem to be driven by ego and nostalgia. Everybody hates everybody, and the newsroom lives in a state of perpetual embarrassment. They need a viable plan forward, but don’t have one – one idea being discussed is to charge subscribers more for the paper, and the numbers will all work out. Not exactly solving the problem. But here’s a business plan (okay, consider it an Executive Summary) that is both simple and workable:
Unbundle the sections of the paper.
Consider this chart, which shows the types of news ad information each of the three Philadelphia platforms deliver.
This isn’t a complete list; they also have the requisite travel and auto sections, but we’re not counting those because… who cares?
Rather than have three separate (and yet somehow overlapping) entities all delivering a slightly different version of all these types of news, why not align your offering based upon the vertical columns? That’s how people consume the news, so why not deliver it that way? The argument against that is that all those people who devour sports will never accidentally stumble across the real news about City Hall and the school district, and therefore not be adequately educated about the world around them. Well, guess what? We’re already there. Again, this is how people already consume the news.
In marketing terms, the Philadelphia newspapers should transform from a branded house (really, three branded houses) to a house of brands. Procter and Gamble is the best known house of brands; you’ve heard of P&G but their brands are what stand out – Pampers, Duracell, Gillette, and on and on.
Likewise, the newspapers should build up their specific vertical news offerings into distinct brands – Sports, Business, Food, Local News, Education, etc. By doing so, they enable themselves to meet the audience where it’s at, and also to dive deeper and deeper to create a better offering. The rise of long form and explanatory journalism shows that there is a segment of the audience that is willing to dive deeper and deeper into a variety of topics. Therefore, rather than writing sports news for non-sports fans in an effort to get them to read that section of the paper, the sports department can dive deeper and deeper. And if you can’t “win” in a specific topic – national political coverage for instance – don’t do it. The local papers tried to do this a couple years ago when they introduced a sports-only app, but it was poorly executed and faded away (note: Execution matters).
It won’t matter that the sports brand will get more traffic than the education brand (at least for business purposes), because the larger business entity will receive the revenues.
A news organization should be mission-driven, and that mission is to inform the public. You could argue that this approach would push that mission aside. But if the newspapers cease to exist, that would be a far larger crime.