You can’t be involved with what’s happening on the internet without coming in contact with the “newspaper crisis” somehow. From a business perspective it’s simple really: Much fewer people buy newspapers (on paper) nowadays. Please note that this has very little to do with advertisement or business models, I’m talking about newspapers from the user perspective here.

Internet is really a commodity nowadays. People process loads of  information on the web every day, and this of course affects how they expect newspapers to behave. Every time I hold a big newspaper in my hands I’m surprised at how inferior it is compared to reading news on the web.

Newspapers have problems with references

If I find an interesting news story on the front page, it’s a mess finding the full article in there. The references are done with page numbers, but with page numbers that are local to a certain part of the paper. “Culture, page 7”. And the culture part is stacked inside the part I’m reading, so I first have to find that one, then find the page numbers (which are removed from pages with ads), and then finally find the article I wanted.

The same is true for related articles. If I read an article I like, it’s quite likely that I want to read other articles on the same subject. Newspapers solve this today by placing similar articles close to each other, and hope that you see them. This is of course limited, and gets harder when pages sizes shrink.

Compare this with clicking a link on the web. If I find an interesting article teaser, I click it, and am instantly taken to the full article. If that article was indeed as interesting as the teaser suggested, I’m often presented with similar articles, from similar categories, and can click them to move there.

Newspapers are slow

Even the most frequently published papers are only distributed once per day. This simply means that papers can’t compete on speed, being first with a certain story. Even if you happen to get your hands on a story at the perfect time, a paper still have to be both printed, and distributed to people. This takes hours.

What’s worse, morning newspapers brand themselves as dealing with  “today’s news”, when in fact it’s the news from yesterday. This hasn’t been a problem before, since there was no faster way to get news. Now there is.

If speed is important to you, you can easily subscribe to news via e-mail, Twitter or RSS, and be instantly updated.

Newspapers are static

Articles in a newspaper are, once published, not possible to update and improve. They are left for the wind, even though there are inaccuracies or important clarifications to be made. Any conversation sparked won’t be there.

This is of course the strongest argument for internet news. A big article will be different if you look at it later the same day. Comments and updates based on feedback are able to improve articles considerably.

Newspapers don’t have enough unique content

Big parts of daily newspapers contain poor rewrites, or plain copies, of articles from elsewhere. The reasoning is probably that they are trying to be exhaustive, give a broad view of what has happened. Problem is, they are hiding their own unique content behind loads of reposts of other’s content.

The same happens on the web, but instead of copying the article you link to it. Then you get to read the news from the real source, and dig in deeper if you want to. Additionally, there’s safegards that stop people from copying other people’s content. For instance, Google have special filters for filtering out duplicate content.

Newspapers are not relevant enough

The biggest reason why I don’t subscribe to any newspapers is that they are not relevant enough. I’m not one bit interested in sports, and still, during big sporting events newspapers push them to the front page, over interesting internet-related news; things I find interesting.

The key here is of course to realize that relevancy is in the eye of the beholder. Only I know what I find interesting, and relevant. Why trust someone else’s relevancy ranking when I can easily get my own ranking online? Even if I don’t want to tailor-pick RSS feeds and build my own custom news feed, there’s someone out there that has more similar taste than the four major newspapers here.

So, what should newspapers do?

Well, they have two options: One, they could keep writing articles, hoping that the quality will be high enough to turn the trend, or Two, they could start thinking of how they deliver news. The expectation of how news should be served is changing. It now needs to be delivered…

  1. … filled with references for digging deeper
  2. … faster than once a day
  3. … in a manner where people’s contributions enhance it
  4. … with a quality stamp that ensures that you’re reading something you couldn’t get anywhere else
  5. … personalized to my own specific taste. No sports.

Is there any other way to do this than focusing aggressively on the web, and less on dead trees?