Wick Communications

Keeping the paper afloat

In Ideas on March 10, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Throughout the proud history of the news business, those on the editorial side have spoken proudly of the separation of the holy church of news, and the stately proceedings of the advertising department. In fact, it was that separation that kept us pure and unsullied by the money it took to produce the news.

While that remains true today, it is increasingly necessary for the apostles on the news side to understand the more secular concerns of the business. In other words, it is incumbent upon all of us to consider ways to make the good and important work we do sustainable for generations to come. I’m not saying we sell out, but not to put too fine a point on it, but our livelihoods depend on business considerations.

This week I was proud to represent Wick Communications at an American Press Institute seminar titled, “The Battle for Community: Crowded, competitive and hyperlocal.” With a title like that, I was expecting the usual evangelism toward all things local, but I was somewhat surprised to learn as much as I did about the business models envisioned to drive these hyperlocal initiatives.

If you are not familiar with the term “hyperlocal,” it is basically a new term for something very old. It means a return to the local roots of newspapers – covering the minutiae that make up a life in a particular place. It’s just another buzzword. In fact, I’ve begun to think our business needs a dose of Ritalin to control the hyper excitement over local journalism. Hyperlocalism is hardly a new initiative within our company. As I told my colleagues the other day, the Half Moon Bay Review has been hyperlocal since 1898…

Anyway, I was surprised to learn A) how little I knew about some of the social media tools being employed by regional dailies represented at the conference, and B) how little I knew about those little boxes online and in the newspaper known as “advertising.” Truth be told, I have made it my business not to make advertising my business. It was as if the mere mention of such an unclean topic would make me dirty.

Oh, how naïve I was. Speaker after speaker spoke eloquently about not only building community online but also their attempts to make money in the process. At the Charlotte Observer and the Miami Herald they are partnering with community bloggers and attempting to share revenue by selling ads on blogs they don’t produce. Gannett is preparing a powerful mobile application that will bring the power of geo-tagged information to readers – and advertisers. News side folks across the continent are fully engaged in “monetizing” their new initiatives.

A consultant who works primarily to motivate ad salesmen told us the tricks of selling to local advertisers. Mel Taylor also explained how too many of us are creating excess inventory online and thereby cheapening the advertising potential of our sites, among many other things.

It was a fascinating come-to-Jesus for a guy like me who has spent his entire adult life in the church of news.

Mary Glick, the API moderator, explained what she was up to this way: “You have to be able to speak to the people who are thinking about the future of the business.” She says that understanding how the business works – ways to make money online, ways we unwittingly torpedo our own profitability – increases out credibility within our organization.

I agree. It was an eye-opening experience.

Clay

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