Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010, Joe Smyth, CEO of the nonprofit Independent Newspapers, Inc., and wrote an article, “Good Newspapers will Survive and Thrive.”

In it, he said: “Sometimes, newspapers are their own worst enemies. Many of them give themselves the same negative media coverage that everybody complains about. These self-anointed pundits predicted newspapers would die when radio emerged, predicted it again when television emerged, and they’re doing it again with the Internet. They will be wrong again.”

I concur with some of Joe Smyth’s points and have additional thoughts about others.

  1. Joe says: Pundits will be wrong again when predicting Internet, like radio and television, would kill newspapers.

    I agree. Newspapers will not die, but the Internet represents a different threat than did radio and television. It is not simply another medium. It is another medium accessible to anyone. And it can stream sound, video and text. No license required, no capital expenditure required.

  2. Joe says: Industry’s biggest problem is highly leveraged speculators.

    Yes, speculators are going to suffer first. But all newspaper publishers are experiencing trends that require actions beyond cost-cutting.

  3. Joe says: We love the Internet and don’t feel threatened by it.

    I disagree, community newspaper owners must feel threatened by the Internet and embrace the unique opportunity it presents.

    Community news organizations can leverage their trusted community position and own the local Internet space. They could not do this with radio and television. Print is being threatened and is going to decline more from the Internet threat than it did from the radio and television threat.

    Radio and television expanded opportunities for the biggest of advertisers. The Internet shrunk the core of community newspaper revenue — auto and real estate.

    This lost revenue from a few can be replaced by the many Main Street  businesses. These are non-newspaper advertisers who can now serve their constituents on the community newspaper’s Digital Main Street with timely advice and offers.  

  4. Joe says: We created community Web sites not newspaper Web sites and most of the content is provided by the users.

    I agree with the community Web site approach, but our reporters participate as the professionals they are in the community.

    Withholding reporters’ stories will not work. Timely who, what, where community news is sought by the market and someone will provide it. “Good enough” can be achieved by a new player.

    The best example of this is Westport Now. This is the go-to site in Westport, Conn. They have no paid reporters and a cadre of willing volunteers. Their stories are thin, but numerous.

    I recently spoke with a prominent Westport school administrator and two Westport lawyers and town activists, the very demographic Joe cites as continuing newspaper readers. They look to Westport Now for their local news, not their two Hearst and Journal Register newspapers.

  5. Joe says: We predict digital-only will be a losing strategy.

    Digital-only search format is a losing strategy long term. But in the short term, a digital-only player like Westport Now can garner the trusted position for timely, accurate news and be ideally positioned to expand into print or iPad display format. And don’t forget AOL Patch. While their strategy is flawed, they have the resources to enter a market, establish a position, learn and grow.

    Community newspapers enjoy the print stronghold. They need to gain the digital beachhead. History has shown that legacy industry players like newspaper publishers in this instance are hindered from doing so by their propensity to keep on established courses (processes, brands, prior investments, beliefs…). This tendency makes it very likely that digital-only players will be the long term survivors. They, free from tradition, will establish a trusted position cheaply, then start and/or acquire a print component. This is the story of VillageSoup in Knox County, Maine.

  6. Joe says: We created community Web sites instead of newspaper Web sites:

    I agree a community Web site is the answer. And most importantly, this Web site has to be a source of new revenue from the businesses and organizations of the community.

    Trusted who, what, where news from journalists is critical to draw traffic to trusted who, what, where news and offers from Main Street.

    Businesses and organizations are the key to sustainable professional journalism. They are the community journalists with a vested interest in serving their community and will pay to be able to serve on the Digital Main Street.

  7. Joe says: Each paper has an e-Edition that includes all the news and advertising:

    Static E-editions are a waste of resources and a distraction. Not until we have dynamic display editions will we be able to provide new value to both readers and advertisers. Timely, digital content-advertising is the best way to serve our readers and advertisers at the moment.

So, the big ideas Joe has right are:

  1. Newspapers won’t die, or at least the display format won’t.
  2. The Internet is something to be loved, not loathed.
  3. Digital-only in the community news space will not suffice.
  4. Community sites, not newspaper sites, will prevail.

My next columns will expand on each of these four big ideas.