Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Growth of Grassroots and the Need to Change Papers

Last month, Steve Rubel and Pete Shankman both pontificated that a major newspaper would fold. Shankman went for 2007, while Rubel went for 20 to 30 years down the line, as the baby boomers die out, and the GenY group was the driving force. Yes, some papers will disappear, but the big ones will continue on. If you look at the past, of course papers go under. It's just part of business.

Rubel's post drew a lot more comments, mainly that newspapers will not disappear, but will change with the times.

But, let's deal in reality: newspapers are not going to die, and while it appears that the publishers are going to try to squeeze as much profit as possible, they will adapt. Which, well, is pretty much what has been happening already. Proof points: newspapers have adopted blogs for certain journalists, such as San Jose Mercury News' GMSV blog or SiliconBeat. Newspapers have begun adopting podcasting, for another revenue stream. Newspapers are adopting RSS, and finding ways to embed advertisements. Yes, the subscription model of home delivery seems to be dwindling, but the publishers are finding new revenue streams and hoping to keep the model alive. But, likely that will not be enough to stop the loss of subscribers.

This past Monday, I was in SF and the Chronicle had two big stories plastered above the fold in the Business section: Current TV and Citizen Journalism. Current TV is all about viewer-submitted content, while the citizen journalism article was all about how various bloggers-slash-citizen journalists have started to break news on their blogs, going out of their way to beat local press. So, here's another medium that is trying to kill the media - or at least give another voice for the public, since the public seems to not trust the mainstream media. And, grassroots journalism will continue to grow - albeit, likely with a few libel lawsuits thrown in here and there. One blogger I know comments that he does not need to verify what he writes, because it's a blog, and blogs aren't copyedited like real journalism.

In his PR Face2Face Dan Gillmor interview, Gillmor noted that grassroots journalism will coexist with mainstream media, just offering more choices. Separately, Dan Gillmor noted in his blog that consumer reporting is best done by newspapers with a large budget, that have the time and resources to carry out investigations. And, that's what can "save" newspapers: interesting pieces that draw in the audience.

What really drove this home to me is a current series in the San Francisco Chronicle. I went to the homepage looking for some information, and saw the link of Alicia's Story. Here is a seven-part series that has brought me back to the Website every day - and when I was in SF, it pushed me to buy the paper.

But, the same cannot be said for other newspapers out there. With the continued dwindling of the staff, local newspapers (owned by the large conglomerates) are homogenized with just wire story after wire story, somewhat like radio being the same across the country.

If you cannot rely on the local newspaper for local news, you are naturally going to find local sources that can satisfy the desire to read about the city and businesses in the city. It's why I read the local business journal - so I do know what is happening in local business. That might be a way to keep the subscribers: adopt some of the forms of blogging, by becoming more involved in local news and adding to the staff to cover local events that would be of interest. Everyone can get national news online or on cable - it's the local spin that is usually not covered.

As for the implications on PR, it will be interesting to see which firms can adapt to the new lay of the land. With the continuing growth and influence of blogs and grassroots/citizen journalism, and the continued importance of mainstream media to reach the larger audience, it will be the firms that can walk the tightrope and balance both blog outreach and media outreach, with strong consulting, strategy and counsel.

But, don't get out your shovels and pick-axes yet for a newspaper's funeral. The medium might change, but the concept will stick around for a bit.


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