The Fourth Estate in ’08

No where is the changing online landscape more apparent than in the newsrooms of the major daily newspapers across the country. With more competition for attention than ever before, reporters and editors are struggling to create a product that both adds value to the collective conversation and is financially sustainable.

The 2008 Annual Report on the State of Journalism, conducted by the Project for Journalism Excellence highlighted that last year, despite efforts to partner with web 2.0 companies, many news organizations struggled to grow in this online space.

Unlike some other popular Web sites, online news providers are not financially capitalizing on the growing digital audiences. Despite the increase in digital readership, the news sites seem to be stuck in the old delivery model common with traditional print outlets.

AOL Executive Ted Leonsis recently published a 10 Point Plan to Reinvent The Newspaper Business. His first point is for newspapers executives to “get out of the newspaper business,” rather those execs “should turn over the reigns to young execs, women and people with diverse backgrounds, who are web based and new consumer savvy and will NOT be wed and enamored with the print-based delivery system of the past.”

Perhaps the best way forward lies in Leonsis’ seventh point in which he suggests newspapers “re-purpose cash flow buy acquiring Web 2.0 companies in the rich media space.” To be sure, many major news sites have attempted to align themselves with more successful and popular social networking sites.

“In 2007…MSNBC purchased community news aggregator Newsvine and ABC News allied with Facebook, just as Google had earlier bought YouTube, and News Corp. acquired MySpace,” according to the 2008 report. However the study found that “there has been little evidence that these new acquisitions and alliances have added much to the bottom line or justified their expense.”

Perhaps the problem lies in the content of the news sites themselves. In response to the yearly State of Journalism report, PC Magazine’s John Dvorak said “…there are too many newspapers selling the exact same news.” Any online news junkie will agree that no matter the news site, chances are you’ll find the same wire stories popping up again and again. Shrinking newsrooms certainly only exacerbate the problem.

The spirit of Web 2.0 is well suited to address the lack of original content plaguing many news sites. Major news outlets should solicit user generated content. Why not tap the burgeoning demographic of readers who are already demanding to interact with the news outlets in increasingly collaborative ways?

CNN's I-Report Logo

Some news sites have already begun the process. CNN’s has launched its own I-Report, which encourages users to whip out their cell videos to snag pictures, and video of newsworthy events. The content is then uploaded on the CNN site and especially compelling content is even featured along side standard news reports.

It seems this space is evolving faster than anyone can manage. If you’re looking for a quick primer on how the ol’ print and deliver newspaper is (or isn’t) evolving with new social media sites, head over to Ted’s blog for his recent 10 point plan. Also, you can read the full 2008 State of Journalism Report available via the Project for Journalism Excellence here.

(Note to readers: you will not get ink on your hands by clicking on any of the links in this article)

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