Friday, 3 April 2009

What papers must do to have a digital future

Nik Hewitt, who worked for Northcliffe Media and Associated Northcliffe Digital as new media specialist for over six years, has written a frank posting on about how regional newspapers must embrace the digital future before it is too late.
Here are some extracts: "Offering partial content and driving users to our print product is just alienating them. The online audience is a sceptical one, and who is going to rush out and buy today's paper when they are already sat at home surfing the net or reading this on the bus on their mobile? Digital is where we should be driving traffic, where we can provide the excellent journalistic content we have in abundance to a targeted online audience?
"Engaging them in debate. Allowing free commentary and inviting opinion. Giving the visitor a sense of ownership in our established and trusted local brands. Giving them resources and information they need to take their community forward.
"Redundancy overshadows everything these days. I appreciate cuts have to be made and the business has to be streamlined for the future for us to survive, but, let's make sure those cuts are happening in the right places.
"Much of our industry, print journalism, is lacking perspective in this new arena. Many in print media have such a fondness for their medium and its tradition they're loathed to look beyond it. Many simply don't understand the urgency or the medium. We can't all stay up-to-date on what's happening out there in the digital soup and see what new avenues are open to us. Trust me, unless it's a full time job, it's almost impossible.
"We're dipping our toes in, sure, but we need to commit. We need to dedicate resources to staying informed and to moving forward. It's important that we have digital teams with the resources they need to respond, fast, to changes and advances in digital media. These are not the people you want to be making redundant right now.
"Invest: we have to give them good, industry-savvy, leadership. We need to grant these people the ability to control our digital brands directly, to say, 'we are going to make video for the website', and give them the power and resources to make that happen. Don't leave it too late. "Editors have to embrace digital wholeheartedly and journalists have to 'write for digital'. Look to those in your paper who write for digital already and strengthen what they have by giving them the ability to try out new ideas.
"We need to engage our communities in new ways, and to make ourselves THE place people come for everything local. We also need to present in a clear, concise, and user-friendly way. The search engines will bring us the traffic if we do it right, and right now that's one of the only online sales metrics easily available to us.
"Our large organisations move slowly and, at the moment, simply can't react quickly enough. This has to stop, even if (I hate to say) it means taking away the autonomy of local editors to affect what we do with mobile, online, and with our digital information. This is the future of the business we're talking about here after all, and our business is journalism and selling advertising.
"We have the best content and well-respected brands. Get your digital team in sync and make sure the people leading them are tech-savvy early adopters who know the industry. Give them the power to react, and the funds to do so. We can still do this, and we know we have to. Let's keep our minds, and resources, open to a digital future."
Hewitt now runs his own web and social media consultancy in The Midlands. He was interviewed by in March

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