All the Blog That’s Fit to Print: Reader-driven Newspaper Content

By | July 7, 2008

As showcased in the news over the past few weeks, the newspaper industry is being hit hard by declining ad sales and a dwindling readership. The whole situation is exacerbated by the less than ideal state of the current economy. There have been a few blows to the newspaper industry in Boston over the past few months. Most recently in the news is the Boston Herald considering to outsource its printing to two independent printing companies outside of Boston. Always looming is the threat of the Boston Globe being sold off by the New York Times as well. However, there was another sad newspaper event in Boston this past year: the closing of BostonNOW.

BostonNOW was a free daily start-up newspaper geared toward the commuters of Boston, set to compete against the Boston Metro, a widely-distributed incumbent free daily. Unfortunately, BostonNOW’s financiers felt that the newspaper was not valuable enough to continue funding, and it folded just a year after its first publication. This happens to be the case with a number of media start-ups. What was unique about the concept of BostonNOW, however, is that it had three aspects: print, web, and mobile, with the print aspect being driven by reader-created content.

Most of the content that wasn’t from wire services or general local news was created by the readers of the paper through the use of blogs setup on BostonNOW’s website. Anyone with web access could create a blog on BostonNOW’s website and start writing content. The content that caught the eye of the editors would be selected and be scattered around the newspaper. Sometimes larger articles (many of them rants from everyday Bostonians) would get their own headline and article space, while most other snippets would appear in groups of black boxes.

Regardless of the content or the placement, an interactive element to the newspaper was implemented, adding value for the content creators (making them want to pick up a paper with what they said printed in it) and for the general readership (seeing what your peers have to say). Trends in current social media, such as use of review sites like Yelp.com show that people want to know and also trust what their peers in their community say, especially with the existence of an open feedback loop or forum.

Another example of leveraging communities for content creation is the implementation of Kodak’s Microzone Publishing technology at the Chicago Tribune. With Microzone technology, newspapers can create websites for different communities within a city or town. Citizens of that community can register on the website and share community news or create their own original content. Editors can then grab that content to publish in a weekly community section of the newspaper. Each community gets a special targeted section with content from its members. Companies within targeted communities can advertise within the locations they want their ad to reach, adding value to a newspaper advertisement, while keeping the cost down to allow smaller companies to advertise. In theory, the newspaper circulation will increase because of the higher value of the content.

Reader-created content is one way to add value to traditionally printed newspapers in hopes to increase readership. As some newspapers eventually transition into digital printing, there are limitless possibilities! At drupa 2008, various newspaper solutions were showcased by Océ, InfoPrint Solutions, HP, Wifag, and others. Clearly vendors want to get into this market, and are making great advancements in technology to make concepts become reality. For newspaper subscribers, this technology could mean a totally personalized newspaper containing reader-created content and targeted advertising not only by region but by the reader’s buying habits and personal preferences of that reader. Perhaps the term NewsPromo will be used to describe this new digital phenomena. While it’s still a far cry from this digital newspaper, it’s a big step in adding more value to every newspaper sold.

Bryan Yeager is a Senior Research Analyst in the Production Workflow and Customized Communications Services group at InfoTrends. He can be reached at bryan_yeager@infotrends.com.

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3 thoughts on “All the Blog That’s Fit to Print: Reader-driven Newspaper Content

  1. Tim Taylor

    Dear Bryan, as you mention, various vendors exhibited digital newspaper production at drupa but the only company to print different live newspapers every hour of every day was Dainippon Screen on its Truepress Jet520.

    We have showed this machine to most of the world’s major publishers and because of the colour quality and text reproduction they are all excited by the possibilities that it offers. At the show we printed USA Today, Le Monde, El Pais, Asahi Shimbun, The Daily Mail, The Evening Standard, A Bola and Handlesblatt – as well as one-off publications that were brought to the show by prospective customers to test the machine.

    With the rising cost of oil for air freighting and the need to combat lost sales to electronic alternatives, the time is now right for digital newspaper production. Over the coming months we hope to help publishers add value to their publications by ensure that ‘Day A’ availability becomes a reality wherever you are in the world.

  2. Duncan Newton

    Hello, Tim
    Thanks for your comments about oil and freight. But remember these are only two of the many factors that are driving the interest in the digital production of newspapers. As pointed out by Bryan Yeager the notions of micro-zoning and highly individuated local editions are of even higher interest. These will help re-capture their sagging ad revenues and bring readers back to the daily broadsheet by localizing the content and making it more relevant.
    Clearly, those of us who are providers of high-speed digital printing equipment find ourselves in an interesting position. I think of it as sitting the eye of the perfect storm. For us the ability to produce individualized documents is an old story – you can’t get much more personalized than a phone bill or a credit card statement. We at Océ have been doing that kind of work for over 20 years. In fact we out sell ALL of our competitors combined, so we must be doing something right.
    This kind of on-demand printing was first applied to newspapers in 2001 when we created the Digital Newspaper Network. The DNN provides foreign newspapers with same-day access to their ex-pat audiences all over the world. American readers living in London actually read the New York Times and the Toronto Globe & Mail before it is even on the newsstands in North America. Outbound Quantas passengers from LAX get todays Sydney Morning Herald as they board the plane.
    When we combine our years of experience in personalized printing and our experience with newspapers it just makes sense that we should be seen as one of the thought leaders when it comes to creating micro-zoned distribution models for newspapers. We have the skills they need to succeed. Whether their model is monochrome of full color we have systems to make this happen for them. But even more importantly we have the expertise to help newspapers take the next step with confidence that we can help them with that one and all of the steps after that.
    There is much more to leading the way into the next phase of newspaper development than just simply putting marks on paper. It has to make sense financially or it is a non-starter.
    We are talking about “reader driven” content in this blog. Speaking to the World Newspaper Congress in Sweden, William Dean Singleton, the CEO of the MediaNews Group said, “We’re going to have to quit writing and editing for each other and write and edit for that consumer out there.”
    I think that is right on target.

  3. John Wilpers

    Hi, Bryan,

    The demise of BostonNOW was indeed a shame as we were on our way to proving that involving the community in the newspaper’s website AND in the pages of the print product as well served to increase both readership AND ad revenue.

    Why? Because we were appealing to the demographic that had either never had a newspaper reading habit or had dropped it. But if you expand your newspaper’s reach and relevance by incorporating community bloggers with their wide-ranging interests, you pull in people who suddenly find the paper compelling. Then you start building community around verticals of shared interest and the future of the industry is suddenly looking a lot brighter!

    But most newspapers don’t even recognize local bloggers exist. I have my list of “The Top Ten Blind Pews” of U.S. newspapers on my blog.

    It’s so frustrating. One of the answers to declining circulation is right under editors’ noses, but their pride and institutional arrogance prevents them from inviting these folks into the tent.

    Great post!

    — John

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