Break up the newspapers – go niche!

by Shawn Smith on March 10, 2008

Can breaking up newspapers make more sense?

In a conversation with my doctor a few weeks ago, I learned why some educated people don’t care for local newspapers.

Why? Because half of the content in the local paper is wire copy – written by the WaPo or the NYT. The local media outlets don’t cover the stories that are important to him.

Maybe that is why magazines websites are experiencing higher traffic growth (via cyberjournalist). Magazines are niche, they play to particular interests of their readers. People interested in specific topics subscribe to news magazines and read blogs that cover the topics they’re interested in.

Newspaper websites are niche, too. Kind of. They’re niche in the sense that they cover a local area. But a lot of newspaper content is also wire copy and some local reports broken into sections that don’t adequately cover a beat to the satisfaction of people who want more information.

Blogs get Niche, so can you!

Howard Owens highlights the success of TechCrunch as becoming the second most popular blog on Earth. TechCrunch is the epitome of a niche publication. It focuses on Tech News and hardly strays from it’s bread and butter. Owens also says he reads TechCrunch every day.

The blog, now a group blog, breaks a lot of tech news. But every news worthy item contains what some might call opinion. I call it informed insight. Arrington and his team know what the hell they’re talking about and I value and trust their point of view.

Niche wins. If you wanted to learn the latest tech news with some analysis, do you turn to your local paper or to TechCrunch? Most likely, if you’re really interested in technology, you’ll turn to the source that is dedicated to producing breaking and interesting content – TC.

Solution: Break up newspapers into niche publications!

Newspapers, in their current form, suffer from an outdated model. Readers can learn a lot from newspapers, but they can’t learn a lot about one particular issue. There isn’t enough room to print it all.

My proposal: Break up newspapers into their related sections. Make the traditional paper into a strictly local front section, largely cutting down on wire copy, and then put out multiple niche publications for the different sections. New print publications can become aggregators of the best content on the wire and web. These niche publications can cover specific issues more in-depth and in interesting ways.

Next, think about breaking up the websites. Make sections into communities and even consider breaking them out into microsites. This is an idea that got floated at the Toronto ONA conference that I think some attendees failed to recognize how revolutionary it could be for them. If online marketers can cash in big with niche sites, why can’t news orgs?

Long Tail affects media too!

Get started: Put your reporters on a beat – on a blog!

This isn’t a new idea, but it hasn’t quite caught on yet either. Reporters should be blogging their beats to create more dynamic, in-depth and interesting content. OWN THE NICHE!

Pat Thorton is the latest to call for reporters to translate their beat to the web. But he’s not the first.

Beatblogging.org is experimenting with 13 news orgs building “social networks around their beats to see how reporting works in a networked world.”

If a reporter is covering a beat, give him a blog to further develop that beat and interact with readers who show a particular interest in the subject. Who knows, maybe one of the readers will turn out to be a great source/contributer to the beat and help make it a more interesting community.

If the niche section becomes a big hit, consider making a micro-site for it, with it’s own revenue and advertisers. Sound crazy? Maybe it is, but if The Long Tail is a accurate theory, then it is sure to work if done correctly.

(sweet images: Newspaper by RedGlow82; The Long Tail graph by b_d_solis.)

What do you think? Can newspapers go niche?