It is well known that the newspaper industry is struggling. Subscriptions are down and advertising revenue has decreased drastically while at the same time the costs of maintaining a news organization have continued to increase.
A major player in the collapse of the traditional newspaper is the Internet. In December of 2008, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press published a study showing that the Internet had overtaken newspapers as a news outlet. At the time, 40% of those surveyed said they received most of their news about national and international issues from the Internet — a substantial increase from 24% in September 2007. Importantly, this was the first time a Pew survey found that more people relied more on the Internet for news than on newspapers.
The Internet’s rise as a purveyor of news came about because it increased the amount of information available and gives users the ability to learn about breaking news when it happens, without having to wait for the morning paper. Sites like the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report are two of the most trafficked sites on the Internet today because they provide the latest news — ahead of the traditional news cycle.
In short, the Internet provides more content than traditional media, and provides it faster than traditional media. The trick for newspapers and other traditional media outlets now is to find a way to effectively harness the power yielded by the Internet and direct media to bring back older readers and amass a strong following of readers from younger generations who spend a majority of their time online.
Similar to its power in the political world, direct media is also highly influential in the online news world. Internet users want content to come to them — which is why they are increasingly looking to Twitter and Facebook for the latest news. In fact, a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that “75% of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% say they share links to news with others via those means.” Online news organizations should take advantage of this by using direct media, including email, Facebook, and Twitter, to deliver news to consumers — just like they would leave a newspaper on a doorstep.
A great example of this is Mike Allen’s Politico Playbook. This daily email pulls out the most important nuggets of information from many different news sources and compiles them into one easy-to-read morning email. So rather than scouring twenty different news sites, users can depend on Mike Allen at the Politico to deliver the most important information of the day. This allows the news site to reach its target audience — Washington insiders and others who care about the latest news from Capitol Hill — with a product that is highly relevant.
Another important aspect of online news is that it is a social activity. The latest Pew study explains, “News consumption is a socially-engaging and socially-driven activity, especially online. The public is clearly part of the news process now. Participation comes more through sharing than through contributing news themselves.” Indeed, Internet users who share news with their social graph act as modern day gatekeepers as people look to their friends for the latest news, similar to how they rely on their peers for product information.
This is how the Huffington Post has found real success. Included on each individual piece of content are prominently placed buttons which allow readers to easily share it with their networks on Facebook, Twitter, and other direct media sites with the click of a button. I have heard that 40 percent of the Huffington Post’s traffic comes from Facebook — a statistic that confirms the Pew study’s findings.
An effective content distribution strategy is a vital part of success for any online news site because no matter how good the content is, no one will find out about it if it isn’t readily available on sites they are already spending time on. Put simply: if you don’t have a plan to distribute your content effectively, don’t bother creating content.
The conundrum for news publishers is their desire to produce revenue to cover the increasing costs of running a news organization, and many of them are now looking to paid subscription models to do so. But only 19 percent of Internet users are willing to pay for news online. And that number includes those who already pay for online news.
These publishers need to remember why the Internet was able to overtake traditional news organizations as a news provider in the first place — it made news widely and easily available.
Transparency and availability is the future of online journalism. Widely available, real-time breaking news coupled with direct conversations with reporters will bring users into the story — similar to the car chase phenomenon — and ultimately establish a strong connection between the user and the news outlet.
That’s why publishers of online news cannot afford to fall into the mindset of restricting their content’s availability to its own site. To bring new readers into the funnel, these individuals must first be compelled by your content, which is why it is so important to lower the barrier to entry for newcomers. Distributing fresh, interesting content to popular sites that many Internet users are already spending time on every single day is an easy way to attract new readers and bring them into the funnel. Only after that can they be persuaded to come to your site on a regular basis.