As I was having a lazy Sunday and am still officially killing off the lurgy that took hold earlier in the week, I briefly ventured outside to get a Sunday paper to pass the time with.
Then it struck me. I can’t remember the last time I deliberately ventured outside in search of the daily paper. I occasionally buy the Guardian if I want to do the crossword on the tube, but that’s more of an impulse purchase. But by and large I now view most of my news online. Is, like Ben, my love affair with the humble newspaper over?
Well, not quite. At least I don’t think so. If there’s something news-wise I’m interested in reading more, I’ll pick up a paper. I still visit the Guardian’s site first thing. But its no longer a thing of habit; more of an occasional distraction.
No, by no means setting myself out as the be all and end all harbinger of daily print media, but when a previously religious daily newspaper reader eventually starts to migrate online, newspapers have some serious thinking to do.
Largely, I think the majority of the nationals are heading in the right direction online: most daily online sites are a very good extension of the brand. You go there for the news, but there’s plenty you can read and do that you won’t be able to do in the paper.
By the same token, local newspapers have cottoned onto this and seem to largely have decided video clips are the way forward, especially since things went very quiet on the BBC’s ultra-local news service.
But using this as a tool to draw in new readers and drive traffic to their sites aren’t without problems. Firstly, if the paper is just offering a video clip of a story already in the paper, there are two potential pitfalls. Firstly, its unlikely to hook in new readers from elsewhere, or readers who are unaware of the paper or its website. Secondly, the video needs to be of a very high quality and worth viewing, and it needs to be of this quality on a consistent level if the website’s going to get users returning (more on that in a bit).
In this respect I was quite interested to see some papers, like the Reading Evening Post, are embedding their clips into YouTube. It’s definitely a start if they’re going to try and attract new audiences (although quite why anybody would want to watch one of their reporters reading the weather, when you could just as easily log onto the BBC’s behemoth, get your local weather and make a cuppa in the time it takes for the video to finish, is beyond me).
But, if local print media is serious about using video clips as a core part of their online brand growth strategy, then they’ve got to get a lot more serious about the content and the quality of their content.
Without a doubt, there is a gap in the market. Regional TV news serves its purpose, but often covers a large geographic area. Local papers have the contacts, the rapport with their audience, and the potential to become the number one destination for broadcast news as well as print. How good would it be if Local Rag gave you the news in video as well, so hurried office worker could download onto their desktop, mobile, or iPod and watch at their own convenience? The potential is massive.
But there’s one issue that needs to be tackled if local newspapers are serious about video news: essentially the majority, if not all, of their journalists will be trained in print techniques.
This isn’t to be condescending to print journalists, and there will undoubtedly be those who’ll pick up broadcasting techniques reasonably quickly. But even those journalists (and print to broadcast is a reasonably well-trodden path) will need training if they’re to become an online VJ-cum-print reporter, and lots of it.
If local papers are to exploit the video gap in the market then the product has to be good enough to compete with local TV news. At the moment, although the quality of editing, shot selection, and the rest has improved immeasurably (no doubt as the journalists get more confident) it still has a long way to go. There’s no reason why they can’t produce broadcast-quality packages but they need time and training – two things local media isn’t exactly renowned for.
The best thing any print journalism course could do now is to offer basics in broadcasting. Any aspiring print journalist who also has a cursory knowledge about how to shoot and put together a TV package will be an asset to a local paper. Ideally local papers should start to look employing a journalist with broadcast experience just to bring their online video up to scratch. It just goes to show that there’s no such thing as diversifying into a discipline anymore.
There is one other small point, which is worth mentioning (if only because it leads neatly into another large point). Video is not the easiest thing browse while at your work desk. Flipping between reading an article and work is easy, video less so. Video may put off your average reader who’s logging on at work, while those who have the luxury of not having to spend their lives in an office, are probably going to be more loyal to the print edition.
But both of these very crudely-drawn demographics on my part (crudely) highlight the need for newspapers, especially local ones, to start thinking about doing much much more. There’s only so far video will take you, even if it does plug a gap in the market, and comes with jazzy graphics, bells, and whistles attached.
They key here is retention. Assuming your reader has read the news, watched the video, then what else is there to stop them surfing elsewhere?
These sites have a ready-made audience and should be exploiting it to the full. If there’s video, why no effort to attempt podcasts, which are much simpler than video for both the journalist to produce and the reader to consume at their leisure. It wouldn’t take much effort to produce an hour’s worth of chat around local sport ready for download.
Most local newspapers now have a comment section after the news story, which is all well and good, but where’s the effort to truly engage their readers? Most local papers have a blog, of sorts, but they’re often hidden away as an afterthought. Why are these not given more prominence? Comment Is Free may be, at its worst, a rabid bear pit of bad manners and utter lunacy, but it also ‘gets’ blogging and does it very well and, more to the point, has an ever growing community. Why haven’t local papers embraced blogging, and attempted to build similar online communities of their own?
Lastly, local papers are different beasts to their bigger national counterparts, so have more of an opportunity to build a proper social networking site based around the area. Journalists are now positively encouraged to use the likes of Facebook to track down stories or contacts. With a dedicated social net, they could get their finger on the pulse have a returning community spending time on their site, and ultimately use this to build their online brand beyond just their core readership. With the rise of sites like Ning, they don’t even have the argument that such things are difficult or costly to build.
I can envisage a point, not too far in the future, when the majority of people use a more advanced, less cumbersome Kindle-style reader to swipe, Oyster-style, their morning paper to read on the way into work, or on their coffee break. It’s also not too much of a leap of the imagination to combine this with a direct link to a paper’s dedicated blog or social net site. Suddenly, your local paper has become a vital part of your life that you pick up in the morning, engage on the social net during the day, and read the blog on the bus home in the evening.
So, the question is, who’s brave enough to make the first leap into the digital not-so-unknown?