Traditional Media Offer New Web Features to Reach a Wider Audience
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
PATTI PETTITE: Good morning, I’m Patty Pettite. Here are your latest News Journal updates.
TERENCE SMITH: It looks and sounds like a local television news broadcast.
For four minutes, at 9 AM. and 4 PM, anchor Patti Pettite delivers breaking news from Wilmington, Delaware. But the program is not broadcast on television, but rather posted on the Web site of the 134-year-old Wilmington News Journal.
The paper is trying a number of ways to broaden its reach and build its audience. Webcasts like this one — which in its first months reached seven to ten thousand people a day — could become a featured attraction of the newspaper newsrooms of the future.
BRIAN GILMORE: This is just where the industry is going.
TERENCE SMITH: Brian Gilmore is the managing editor of online news for the News-Journal, the dominant news provider in the state with a circulation of 114,000 daily and 140,000 on Sundays. While its print circulation has been dropping, its Web readership has been rising.
BRIAN GILMORE: Every news organization is combining as much as they can to reach a bigger audience. You can’t reach people in a newspaper with video. But newspapers have a Web site; you can reach them online.
PATTI PETTITE: People have to understand and have to learn why this is happening. And sometimes a lot of people are traditional, but if you want to make it work and you want to sell a product, you have to change with the times.
TERENCE SMITH: News organizations across the country, from network news to daily newspapers, are losing audience. Papers are suffering one of the worst circulation declines in recent years.
To stem the loss, news organizations are innovating: devising technological alternatives that allow people to get their news in different ways — and, in many cases, decide when and where and how they receive it in a new “always on” environment.
The consumer is suddenly in the driver’s seat. The television networks realizing they can no longer depend on people for “appointment viewing” are now offering news on demand and in new ways.
Some broadcast and cable networks offer original programming, as well as already-broadcast video news stories, that can be downloaded from their Web sites and watched via computer. And subscriptions are available for cell phone users to receive headlines or video updates on the go.
The NewsHour, like the networks and many newspapers, has recently launched RSS — a tech acronym for Really Simple Syndication. This software allows consumers to register which NewsHour topics interest them and have text stories in those customized areas fed for free to their computers automatically.
Even the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country, the 23-year-old USA Today, is hurrying to keep up with demanding, skeptical, time-crunched news consumers.
Kinsey Wilson is vice president and editor-in-chief of usatoday.com, which has some nine to ten million individual visitors per month. He says his organization is striving to compete in an ever-changing marketplace.
KINSEY WILSON: The audience is beginning to interact with news. We’ve gone from a world in which news organizations had either monopolistic control of certain markets or because of barriers to entry, fairly exclusive control over certain aspects of media, and consumers gravitated towards a few favored sources of news to a world in which there’s saturation news. We no longer have exclusive control of the printing press.
TERENCE SMITH: USA Today has enabled consumers to access their product on a variety of platforms beyond the paper and the Web site. The so-called “USAT News Center” allows people staying at hotels to interact with a scaled-down version of the Web site that gives them current news; software called AvantGo allows palm pilot users to access USA Today news wherever they are. Some cell phone users can surf the paper’s offerings as well and RSS has become a popular offering on the USA Today site as with many papers.
Then there is “Captivate,” which delivers headlines, weather and news briefs to television screens in office building elevators around North America.
TERENCE SMITH: There is also a new citizen or participatory journalism movement that allows readers to not only redefine how they get their news, but to write and photograph and contribute to it from the bottom up. Backfence.com is a new “hyper-local” Web site in the upscale Virginia suburbs outside of Washington. It’s here, at this dining room table, where these backfence.com founders launched their virtual newsroom.
MARK POTTS: Grassroots journalism is what it’s been called, very different from top-down journalism where an editor decides what’s important.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark Potts, a veteran print newspaperman and online entrepreneur, explains:
MARK POTTS: We’ve gotten some very thoughtful things put up already, that you’ll go, “wow, this person really knows the subject.” And I think that’s the thing that’s so magical about this. Where we’re reaching out in the community is where people themselves know the subject cause a comment, that, none of us are as smart as all of us and so we’re reaching into that pool of information in the community.
TERENCE SMITH: Co-founder Susan Defife explains the kind of micro news that comes out in these communities of 100,000 or fewer people.
SUSAN DEFIFE: There’s a huge gap in local information. You can get national news in many places and very good national news. What is missing is that down to the neighborhood level. How do I find a good plumber? How do we take care of getting a traffic light at that dangerous intersection? What’s going on with the school principal being transferred or mobile classrooms going into our school? It’s a conversation that used to take place on the front porch or over the back fence, if you will.
TERENCE SMITH: We visited a group of young people at the University of Maryland to track the new technology and see how news consumption is being redefined. These young people are part of a demographic coveted by advertisers.
Dutch, you were talking about a typical day and how you get the news of the day.
DUTCH FOX: First thing in the morning when I pop out of bed, I turn on my computer and my RSS feed pops up. It’s a tremendous time saver. It allows you to avoid the hassle of clicking from Web site to Web site to Web site and having everything in one convenient space. You know, I don’t even actually have a television. It’s just too inconvenient to be time bound to watch the news.
MAYA RAO: This is actually my primary news device. I use my e-mail to get — this receives e-mail — I get online Wall Street Journal, as well as the Reuters before the market, and that’s generally the first thing I check in the morning.
Like Asher, sometimes I’m dangerously reading my Blackberry, checking my e-mail while I’m driving. I think the great power of the Internet and of all this technology is just the power of the consumer to now choose and also the democratizing of news and information.
TERENCE SMITH: The key element, or a common element, in what the four of you said was self-selection, that you select your news; you pick out the key words; you decide what it is you want to know.
ASHER EPSTEIN: The advantage of being able to self-select news is that you get tremendous depth on any issue. The Washington Post is going to give you the broad strokes. They’re also not going to give you the detail, and they’re also not going to give you multiple perspectives. So you can dive down and see multiple perspectives. The flip side is that your behavior is self-reinforcing, so you tend to like the perspectives that reinforce your view of the world.
TERENCE SMITH: The Wilmington Journal is chasing tech-savvy purveyors like the Maryland group.
In addition to their Webcast, they have introduced Weblogs, or blogs, written by their reporters, Really Simple Syndication, discussion boards, e-mail addresses for their staff writers and a photo gallery where readers can post pictures of storm damage and local events.
TERENCE SMITH: In addition, the paper has launched a podcast — audio programs that can be downloaded at any time onto an iPod or MP3 player. Here staffers are recording a 30-minute show about current entertainment in the Wilmington area.
Though the Webcast crew covers a story much as any small local station would, the Webcast managers say they won’t lose sight of the mother ship: the paper and its profits.
BRIAN GILMORE: Something that’s important to every aspect of this organization, which is now print, Web and video, is to make sure people are aware that they have all of these options. So we made sure that in our Webcasts we remind people to buy newspapers.
TERENCE SMITH: USA Today’s Kinsey Wilson says that while his paper welcomes various platforms to distribute its original news product, he has doubts about technology for technology’s sake and innovations such as blogs, which favor opinion over traditional shoe leather reporting.
KINSEY WILSON: I think the consumer in the end is the winner but with a caveat, I would say, and that is these technologies are very disruptive to established news organizations and there’s a very open question at this point as to whether money will shift from traditional news providers to technology companies and others and how much cash will be available for basic news gathering that is the root of all this.
TERENCE SMITH: The Backfence.com founders say journalistic gatekeepers are still needed but…
MARK POTTS: It’s very clear and in the backlash we’ve seen against the media, that we’ve seen in circulation and advertising that was in the last couple years that people want something else that there’s — they’re not satisfied for whatever reason, they’re not satisfied with what they’re getting from traditional media and they’re looking for another way.
TERENCE SMITH: Indeed, a recent study by Arbitron Inc. shows that 27 million Americans strongly prefer controlling their media and entertainment and own one or more on-demand media devices. So, for nearly 10 percent of Americans, the always on future is already here.