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Newspapers in Multimedia Metamorphosis, Part 1

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One place where convergence was briefly considered but didn’t catch on was at The Spokesman-Review, which is owned by a company that also owns a local radio station. "We found it really hard to make that work. The cultures are so different," says the newspaper’s Colin Mulvany. Mulvany says that two or three years ago, when converged TV and newspaper newsrooms started to become a trend, he started to shake his head. "I kept saying, ‘No, that’s not going to work. We don’t want to be TV. We don’t want that model of TV on the web; it doesn’t work.’" And he feels his initial negative instincts have proven valid. "At a lot of those places where the TV stations and newspapers started working together, things just didn’t pan out," he says.

One high-profile newspaper that has been pursuing the converged newspaper/website concept is The New York Times. "The Times has been trying to converge its web operations and its print operations into one newsroom. That’s been a long process and I don’t know how successful they’ve been," says Glaser. "But, look, the web has been around for over 10 years, and it’s taking time to work all these things out. But I think it’s interesting that The New York Times, which everyone considers just a newspaper company, is transforming itself into a news and information company. And whether the public gets their news on a mobile phone or whatever—it isn’t going to matter to the Times, as long as they work out a way to either get paid for the delivery or by inserting ads."

New Media, New Audience RelationshipsBIn an article on his blog entitled "How the Local Newsroom of the Future Might Operate," Glaser suggests that newspapers need to rethink their relationship with their audience and rewrite their mission statements. He writes that the purpose of tomorrow’s newsrooms will be to "serve the public by collaborating with them and delivering the news they want on the platform of their choice. If people want to read it on their cell phones, great. If they want to print it out or get a print edition, that will be possible. If they like video, there will be video. If they want podcasts, there will be podcasts."

Glaser’s vision is based on trends already clearly underway. He touches on some of these trends and names names in another article entitled "Imagining a Future Tense for Newspapers." In it he points to some newspapers that are practicing "a new way of doing journalism" and reaching a new "enlightened and empowered audience." For example, he calls the News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina, a "blogging pioneer," and cites The Spokesman-Review for making "transparency a priority." The Wisconsin State Journal "has let the audience vote on front-page stories." And The Bakersfield Californian and the Rocky Mountain News "have had success with hyperlocal citizen media sites."

Another trend setter has been The Boston Globe, which has been experimenting with capitalizing on user-generated video. The Globe is soliciting high school sports footage from team players and their parents. Covering high school sports has always been a huge problem for newspapers, because the activities are of interest to only small audiences, yet they cost as much to cover as a big event (the Celtics at the Garden, for example). But a newspaper asking the public to cover a football game for them is brilliant. The newspaper saves a ton of money, and it makes the camera operators feel like they are contributors to the newspaper—which they are. They feel connected to and invested in the newspaper, which breeds brand loyalty. And it makes the experience of the newspaper more interactive for the community of readers. This is the sort of thing Glaser is referring to when he talks about newspapers serving the public by collaborating with them.

Lots of Potential
There are, of course, still many hurdles for newspapers to clear as they metamorphose into newsgathering multimedia entities, but the potential rewards are said to be enormous. And video will be one of their key money-making assets.

Glaser says some newspapers are already profiting from their videos. "Everyone says that the pre-roll ads are bringing in a pretty good amount of money compared to banner ads," he says. "You can look at rate cards and the CPMs and look at what they are charging for video ads versus banner ads, and you’ll probably find that they are some of the highest-paying inventory that those sites have. The New York Times, The Washington Post, people like that are selling those for pretty high rates. In fact, a lot of newspapers have been busy adding video just to have something to sell against."

Glaser says that video ads are popular with advertisers "because it’s easy to ignore a banner ad, but a video ad is more in your face. Plus, the medium of video is just a much better way to deliver an ad. It provides more branding. TV ads, because they deliver sound and vision, have always been the gold standard for advertisers and marketers. So online video ads have a potential for great return. And that’s why everyone is so high on these video ads."

And online video ads promise to get even more popular as time goes on. "All the research firms are predicting that video advertising will go from the pretty small portion that it is today to bigger and bigger year after year as more people watch more online videos," says Glaser. Now, newspapers may not necessarily be the big winners here, Glaser cautions. It may instead be places like Google or YouTube or MySpace that end up collecting the lion’s share of video advertising dollars.

That will depend a lot on how serious newspapers become about aggressively pursuing online ad dollars, distribution deals, and so forth. But a good sign for newspapers is a recent survey done by the Online Publishers Association (www.online-publishers.org), which showed that more people watch online news video than watch those wacky off-the-wall videos that user-generated content sites like YouTube have been so successful with.

Newspapers with multimedia-rich websites will also profit from the general trend away from old media toward the new, according to Glaser. "Advertisers are looking at media usage numbers, comparing time spent online versus time spent with old media, and they are realizing that it doesn’t make sense to spend all their budgets on old media," says Glaser. "So it’s slowly shifting over to new media. In fact, in the U.K. there are now more online ads being sold than radio ads."

Can Newspapers Compete With TV?
Well, newspapers can certainly compete with television, as shown by a surprising survey recently conducted by Borrell Associates. The survey found that newspaper sites with videos are doing a better job of attracting advertising dollars than are television stations that have put video on their websites. The Borrell study reported that in 2006 newspapers sold $81 million in local online video commercials, while TV broadcasters sold only $32 million worth of locally targeted online video ads. The survey also pegged the 2006 market at $161 million, and projected that to grow by 5% to $371 million by the end of 2007, and predicted the market to hit $5 billion within 5 years.

You’d think television stations would be at a distinct advantage here, given their huge archives of video inventory. But Glaser and other media watchers suspect that many TV stations may be just dumping onto their sites redundant footage that TV viewers have already seen. In contrast, the videos that newspapers are producing are totally new, and sometimes they complement a print story the viewer has already shown interest in, so he or she is already inclined to want to watch it.

It will be interesting to see whether local TV stations will wise up and catch up with their newspaper competitors. According to the Borrell study, from last year until this year, the number of broadcasters expecting to sell streaming video ads has risen from 72% of survey respondents to 80%, so it looks like they’re not completely asleep at the wheel.

Full Speed Ahead
Colin Mulvany of The Spokesman-Review says that the ongoing trend for newspapers to go fishing for bigger audiences with multimedia as the bait is creating drastic changes for most of his colleagues in print journalism. "We have to approach it with no fear," he says.

"If newspaper journalists want to go anywhere in this business, they’d better know how to do slideshows and video, because that’s where it’s going," says Mulvany. "Our paper has become web-centric. And we’ve all got to get over the concept that there are two separate entities. The website is the newspaper, just in a different form.

"Management at newspapers doesn’t realize that there’s this huge revolution going on, and it’s happening under its feet. And the papers that have made this transition to multimedia and are moving forward are the ones who are going to benefit."

Click here for Part 2.

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