Jeff Jarvis has started a good conversation with a post titled "Bad news, good news" at Buzzmachine. In response to a comment that "The problem with the Good News is that newspapers can’t translate an equal online readership into the same revenue as in print," I posted the note below, which cites the frequency-of-usage failure that I've mentioned on many previous occasions. Once again, I'm concerned that journalists just don't understand their role in creating or solving the underlying problem.
I have to differ with Dan Thornton. There is no equivalency in the online readership.
If there were, we might actually see equivalency in revenue.
The unique-user number is inflated BS calculated from counting cookies from a wandering global audience. It’s primarily useful for spreading fog at senior management meetings and issuing chest-beating and ultimately misleading press releases about how newspapers are extending their audience reach online.
It should never be compared to in-market commercially relevant print readership data.
The true number of in-market users who consume pages with enough frequency to be affected by an advertising campaign is distressingly low.
At the core, it’s not an advertising problem. Local businesses still need to reach potential local customers, and they’re willing (although certainly not eager) to pay for results.
It’s primarily a failure to attract and retain a commercially relevant audience that’s breaking the newspaper business model.
That points the arrow back at the people who create the content. The 20th century content model isn’t working any more, regardless of whether it’s in print or beamed directly into your cerebral cortex by a modified laser beam.
If I were looking for good news, I’d be looking at the transition that many companies are making from single-product strategy to a portfolio/aggregation strategy. I’d be looking at the newspapers that are beginning to figure out behavioral targeting in a network context. I’d be looking for new newsrooms that are beginning to really grasp the breadth of their roles outside the simple 24×7 breaking-news concept.
I’d be looking for great examples of facilitating and leading productive conversations. I’d be looking for great examples of online resources and local-life tools built around actual needs (as opposed to technologies or existing info resources).
Online audience is still too small to be effective for ads
Networks and content development
This highlights why a two-pronged response is important:
1. Participate in networks to take advantage of the strengths of other sites. The Newspaper Consortium's deal with Yahoo enables local media to sell into a broader delivery system that includes newspapers, Yahoo, and other affiliates, all targetable geographically, demographically, and behaviorally.
2. Pursue a broader content strategy to strengthen your own sites. News alone -- even 24x7, even with video, even with comments and transparency and all that good Web stuff -- isn't going to do the trick. (News alone never accounted for the popularity of print at its peak, so I don't know why this is hard to see.) It's not very hard to discover poorly met local needs in the areas of information and social interaction, but you have to actually talk to real people and get out of the "that's not why I went into journalism" mindset.
"2. Most general online