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Newspapers, in their current form, suffer from an outdated model.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. 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?

{ 15 trackbacks }

March 12, 2008 at 12:34 pm
The Use of the Internet by America's Newspapers - - Online News Association - Research and Studies
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Jornais à medida | Newspapers made to measure « O Lago | The Lake
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Be the mayor of your beat « Jason Kristufek’s We Media blog
March 11, 2008 at 11:55 am
Newspapers, niche and ninja’s « Tom Altman’s Wedia Conversation
March 11, 2008 at 10:06 pm
New Media Bytes: Break up the newspapers - go niche! | Martin Stabe
March 12, 2008 at 12:16 am
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March 12, 2008 at 4:00 am
links for 2008-03-13 | Daily EM
March 13, 2008 at 12:09 am
New Media Bytes - MyBlogLog
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BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Desperate times need desperate models
April 5, 2008 at 4:31 pm
We Are the Niche | joe boydston
December 14, 2008 at 3:22 pm
Seizing opportunities in niche journalism « Ink-Drained Kvetch
September 28, 2009 at 8:26 am


Jonas Martinsson, FeedJournal March 12, 2008 at 8:21 am

Excellent ideas, which echo my own. This is the only way forward for today’s newsrooms, if they are to stay attractive to readers.

Shawn Smith March 12, 2008 at 8:52 am

Thanks for the comment Jonas. I totally forgot about FeedJournal. Thanks for reminding me. Anyone who makes it this far down into the comments, check out – it allows users to do exactly what I’m talking about.

Jeff Kart March 21, 2008 at 9:44 pm

I think a local newspaper’s best niche is still local news, with local Internet content.
National and international wire copy seems like a waste. I mean, I already heard/read/saw that story on the radio/CNN/my favorite blog. But local news is still a niche. People want to know what’s going on in their backyard.

Shawn Smith March 22, 2008 at 10:22 am

I think you’re right Jeff. The goldmine is the local content. But I have heard many people get upset about the amount of wire copy in their papers, making the local content difficult to find. I’m not sure that newspapers need to be the “everything” that they have grown to. You’re spot on with the local angle being the best niche to exploit

George Sylvie March 27, 2008 at 11:41 am

fyi: Max McCombs at University of Texas’ journalism school already has given a major address touting just this. And there’s a paper (mine) at the J School’s upcoming annual online symposium that takes it a step farther. If you’re interested, go to

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