10 Things Every Newspaper And Magazine Website Must Do

Posted by

Type "newspaper industry" into Google News and there’s nothing but bad news. Everything from falling profits and job losses to trying to figure out their footing in the new media world.

It has become an interesting industry to follow in terms of Marketing, Communication, Advertising and Media. In late October I published this Blog posting: New Media Might Not Be Able To Save The Newspaper Industry after the Newspaper Association of America issued a press release that newspaper Websites attracted over 41% of all Internet users and served over 3.5 billion pageviews per month, but were still struggling with how to monetize their properties.

Just yesterday, the The American Press Institute announced an invitation-only, closed-door summit scheduled for November 13th, 2008 with fifty CEO-level executives from the newspaper industry to look at "concrete steps the industry can take to reverse its declines in revenue, profit and shareholder value," according to the news item, API Hosting ‘Crisis Summit’ for Newspaper Industry, in Editor & Publisher.

"The critical role of journalism can only be preserved if the newspaper industry can come through its current crisis," says former turnaround CEO James B. Shein, now a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management and the person who will lead the summit. "It’s important for companies to see how far along the ‘crisis curve’ they’ve traveled, and there are concrete steps organizations can take to halt and even reverse that journey. We’ll use those tools to illuminate for newspaper industry leaders the urgency of their situation, and lay out the steps they will need to take to begin the renewal process."

It sounds like they are looking at the really big questions. Boiling the ocean is always a tough challenge. Small, incremental change does work (even for huge companies). Here are ten things every newspaper (magazine or other) website can do to build their business by building their community:

1. Link Journalism – Most newspaper websites do not link out to other sites. This walled garden approach is not helping. One, from a pure search engine optimization stand-point, linking out makes tons of sense because there are presently lots of high quality links coming into their properties. This simple action will increase their ranking in the search engines, generate more pageviews and interest. It also speaks to trust and value. By linking out to other sites, newspapers are providing a much better user experience. This was Blogged about over here: Content Is An Organic Linking Process and the term, "link journalism" was coined by the most-excellent Blog, Publishing 2.0.

2. Formatting – Turn those long articles into checklists or break up the content. Use bold to create headers throughout the piece. Highlight the important lines. Italicize the quotes. Reading online is not like reading a newspaper. Make the copy bounce online by adding in simple and effective formatting techniques to make the content "pop" more. Remember, reading online is more like snackable content.

3. Tagging – It is hard to believe that most newspaper sites don’t have tags on every page of content. How about tag clouds? Looking at the tags helps the reader identify whether or not they even want to read the whole piece. Also, having tags makes their content (and they have a lot of it) increasingly easier to organize and search.

4. Blog directory – Some (if not all) Journalists are Blogging (be it text, images, audio or video). Many smart newspapers post a Blog directory to let their readers know in one simple and easy area how to connect and find these great additional resources. I’ve also heard nightmare stories where contributors and freelance writers were not able to post their Blogs in these directories because they were not full-time employees of the Publisher. Readers don’t know or care who is a full-time employee and who is freelance. If they like the content and want more of it, newspapers should focus on that goal and ease up on the bureaucracy.

5. Cross promote effectively – How many times have you seen a call to action in print to go online and what you’re looking for is either not there or impossible to find? Most newspapers drive readers to their generic website address in hopes that the reader will scour and dig to find the content that took them there. Here’s a real newsflash: they will not. Use the Web to get readers to read the print version and use the print version to extend the dialogue and add value online. Simply publishing the printed version online is a cop-out and is not a sustainable business model (as most publishers are quickly realizing).

6. Unique website address – Tying into #5, have unique URLs for the important pages that you are promoting. If it’s a guest editorial for Malcolm Gladwell, promote it in the print version like this: www.YourNewspaper.com/gladwell. Tiny URLs and long website addresses with lots of numbers and letter won’t cut it. A great and memorable Website URL is smart marketing and promotion.

7. Highlight your contributors – More and more newspapers are bringing in guest editorials or younger contributors. Some popular Bloggers are getting columns or freelance work in traditional print. Highlight them, promote them and get your audience excited about this very new and fresh content. Readers like to connect with the Journalists they read. Humanize them by letting readers see a little bit "behind the curtain."

8. Comments – It’s hard to believe that some newspapers still don’t allow their readers to comment or add their own perspective. On top of that, when comments are enabled it is very rare that the Journalist who wrote the actual story engages in the comment section. Commenting brings your content to life.

9. Correct mistakesCraig Silverman over at Regret The Error has a book and Blog all about the mistakes the mass media makes. The website is an amazing platform to correct those errors by turning the permanent record (the print version) into a more organic, fluid and real experience online. This would make the digital version the "real" permanent record by using strikethroughs and updates to ensure that the most recent and accurate accounting of the story is up-to-date. How many times has a media story been updated or changed, but when you go back to the online version, those updates are not reflected – it’s simply the correction as a standalone piece that is not linked to the original story. It’s unacceptable.

10. Collaborative filtering – This is what makes Amazon work so well. Collaborative filtering recommends other products, articles, etc… based on your current selection. It’s that whole, "if you like this, you might like this…". It’s the idea of adding a bunch of related links, posts and articles at the bottom of every piece of content and demonstrating to your readers how connected your content is and what else might interest them. Collaborative filtering builds tremendous loyalty and interest.

What else can newspaper and magazine websites do to build their audience and get better, smarter, faster and richer now?

(this Blog post was inspired by hearing that Blogger, mesh conference founder and Globe & Mail Journalist, Matthew Ingram, was named Communities Editor over at the Globe and Mail. Many congrats Matt).


  1. Another important one: newspapers must become once again relevant to their local community. There is an enormous amount of local news out there not captured by traditional media outlets. Local journalists have to be the eyes and ears of their city. To Report, analyze and discover local trends. Become (once again) agents of local change.

  2. Good suggestions, but most of them revolve around the web efforts of a newspaper. I was wondering, what can a newspaper do with their print media efforts?
    I’ve been reading Seth Godin’s “Tribes” book, and I think there has to be a better way newspapers can use their print media to build local tribes. Section it more by niche, perhaps, make it more localized, I don’t know for sure, but would love to get your thoughts.

  3. Great post, Mitch– thanks. Excellent ideas — i’m strong advocate esp. of cross-promotion. Regarding Derrick Kwa’s comment above, Steve Outing over at E&P had a recent interesting take, “helping older readers adopt to digital media.” His article is here — very good read: http://tinyurl.com/6kq4qh

  4. Let’s also not kid ourselves into thinking that certain Blogs and websites can use these tips as well.
    I agree that E&P article is great. Ultimately, it is (and will be) about cross-promotion and unique content for the unique channels.

  5. One trend that is killing the brand (and the soul) of a lot of papers is the over-reliance on wire service stories. In the short-term, papers are saving a lot money by not having to hire their own reporters but over the long term this business decision is draining whatever unique personality the paper represents.
    Think of how this looks from an online perspective: as Mitch says, link journalism is the new reality. If you’re not actually producing original content, who is going to link to you? I’ll send my readers to AP or Reuters (or hopefully the paper that originally ran the article) before I link to the Halifax Herald’s re-print of the story. That would just make me look lame.
    The most cost-effective way to achieve this (to Seb’s point) is to focus on local stories. That has to be your core. But papers like La Presse here in Montreal are showing that you can build a network of stringers around the globe and create a world-class product on a daily basis that is authentic, original and link-worthy. And hopefully profitable.

  6. Good thinking.
    One of the hurdles to implementing your suggestions is the feeling that the online newspaper should be the “official” archives of the print edition. This touches many of your ideas.
    Newspaper editors have to get over this hurdle.
    I haven’t seen it happen yet. But I have hope.

  7. I’m not sure if you were at the second day of Marketing Week Mitch (Media Day), but Scott Galloway who sits on the board for NY Times had an excellent keynote address around the newspaper industry.
    He started with an interesting perspective on purchasing habits stating that nowadays everyone wants either value (walmart) or value-added (Tiffany & Co). No one has the time to figure out those people that play in the middle, nobody wants to take the time to evaluate and measure four companies in the middle against each other. They will take the cheapest or the best.
    Then he brought this around to newspapers and said that national and local niche papers will do well moving forward but those ones in the middle will struggle because people won’t see the value of the Kansas City Star when they could just read the Times. And if they want local news then they will get their local niche paper.
    It was a very interesting perspective from a guy directly involved in the industry.

  8. Can you give me an example of a newspaper that publishes a blog directory? I’d like to interview them if possible…
    Also, this is a fantastic list, but I feel like it misses the core issue: newspapers need to start making money.
    I think the answer is a combination of metered content and ad innovation: basically kill CPC ads online and open the doors to automated, media-rich ads from local businesses that can benefit most from the exposure.
    With virtually limitless ad inventory, newspapers should immediately look to pursue low margin, high-volume based ad solutions.
    Great post!

  9. I watched the music industry die and some of it come back to life in different forms. Some lessons:
    1) Niche’s still work – Newspapers should keep their local reporters and make sure they provide original local content.
    2) Monetize in new ways – When music downloads halted revenue for the music itself, the innovators in the industry looked to other ways to turn their artist or label’s profile into income ( t shirts and merchandise, live show revenues) Newspaper sites should use the traffic they generate to their own advantage – they should partner with someone and start selling merchandise and gain from the profits themselves.

  10. Sebastian, I’m with you 100% about newspapers becoming relevant locally. Derrick, since you asked about the print efforts, I think that more and more, newsreaders, especially Gen Y, are trending towards online news–we’re online already. What’s your opinion on print media?

  11. The weekday paper containing yesterday’s news has been creeping towards irrelevance since the radio was invented. There is simply no point continuing to flog “the paper” to the fast-growing majority of people whose daily infotainment needs are limited to sports scores, strock prices and traffic reports.
    On the other hand, there should always be a significant niche market for a good thick weekend paper with lots of op-ed, local coverage, editorial cartoons, and international stories off the wire. For those who go out of their way to preserve the notions of “spare time” and “quiet contemplation” in their personal lives, a podcast or RSS feed is no substitute!
    My recommendation for the paper barons who fear for their future: try local weeklies, with real content and no typos, delivered on Saturdays, at $4 or $5 a pop. In other words, focus on what they do best.

  12. Here is my spin on the more structural issues with mainstream media (in total disclosure, picked up segments from my blog).
    From a supply perspective, the proliferation of choice and the democratization of media platforms has rendered the “space” extremely congested. As you say Suzanne, an obvious niche is “local.” There is a niche for everything and, unfortunately, one could argue that the objectivity of “serious” and researched news (call it “quality” news or “value added” as you say, Dave) is becoming a niche as well. The ability for serious news organizations such as NPR, the BBC or CNN to maintain worldwide coverage, much less afford overseas news bureaus, is virtually a luxury of the past. Consequently, the number of in-depth investigations has been declining in quantity and in quality.
    From the perspective of the consumer, over the course of the last 20-30 years, the sources of information have been corrupted either by overt financial concerns and objectives, or by the lowest common denominator style salesmanship (epitomized by the ‘entertainment’ of News of the World and other such rags).
    The internet has certainly played a role in unfurling the problem of the mainstream media. The democratization of journalism is, to my mind, just a reaction to the lack of the right offer. Consumers, pressured for time, have largely rejected standard hour programming. In virtually every household, the television is competing against the computer, much less the IPOD — although the radio seems to be holding its own. In the realm of news, consumers today are looking for customized information, in byte sizes. For many, the relationship of a consumer with his or her local news team is visceral. The consumer is looking for some form of connection – because the news is feeding the psyche, helping to rationalize events around him or herself. There is, in this relationship, an inherent wish to believe it is truthful — i.e. that the news is authentic. And I would argue that the problem of news organizations can be quickly related to the problem of established brands: how to stay authentic, flexible, customized and in touch with its [mass] consumer? As Noam Chomsky says in his article “What makes Mainstream Mainstream?”, media organizations have typically relegated the consumer to be passive. He writes, the consumers’ “…job is to be ‘spectators,’ not ‘participants.'” So, too, say many brands.
    I elaborated on some answers in this post http://tinyurl.com/5sw4n7.

  13. Great post. Your first item (Link Journalism) speaks to the massive ego and arrogance of traditional media. I think the majority of journalists and editors in MSM still look at blogs and bloggers as the unwashed, filthy masses.
    Until they get over the “not written here” attitude, they will never even get past item #1 in your list.

  14. Hear, hear for more localization – and for more complementary content.
    I especially like the Vanity Fair approach. Many articles in VF now include teasers for online content, i.e. “See the behind-the-scenes video for VF’s cover photo shoot! Visit http://www...”
    Readers have the sensorial pleasure of reading a glossy, well-produced magazine, but they are also offered exclusive content online. Both the magazine reading and the online experience is enhanced, and the reader begins to look forward to the new *treats* they may partake of online.
    Newspapers could really benefit by offering readers complementary content online.

  15. India-born entrepreneurs empower US voters
    Shukoor Ahmed ran for a seat in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1998, after coming to America a decade earlier from Hyderabad, India. Campaigning door-to-door, he was surprised so many voters did not know who represented them!
    After his race ended slightly short of victory, he took advantage of his Master’s degree in Computer Technology and Political Science to build StateDemocracy.org, a website he launched in 2001 to connect citizens and lawmakers. His website’s motto encapsulated its mission:

  16. Love the blog directory idea — I’ve been promoting it in the industry for 2 years with few takers.
    Here are two examples:

  17. Lots of excellent points made here. I’ve seen the list of 10 lacking in so many newspapers, sometimes its very discouraging as those are such basic things that can be implemented.
    One poster said this list doesn’t address the revenue issue. True. But, getting these basics matters at hand taken care of are sure ways to build audience and brand. Without a strong brand and audience your sales staff will be whistling Dixie in the wind.
    Arrogance of newspapers to not allow story commenting is a continual problem. Many newspapers STILL think their opinion is MOST important. Look around at papers that promote their editorial pages but stink at user generated comments don’t allow reviews of local businesses etc…..
    There are opportunities out there besides the banner. Newspapers have to have the courage and stop saying “that won’t work” or “thats not our specialty.” They need to change and learn, they come hand in hand. You may not be a specialist in a topic or industry but it doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to adapt and use your media products to help drive traffic to new niches.

  18. Ok, I’ll be the one to say it:
    In our process of embracing the web, will we end up throwing out journalism?
    I’m _not_ an old media curmudgeon and as someone who works in public radio, I wish desperately that those leading our organizations had begun to think about these things sooner. Many of your suggestions are good ones. But the elephant in the room is that you’re encouraging reporters to change the way they report. I’m sorry, but “turn those long articles into checklists”…???! You can’t be serious…and you certainly can’t be a lover of long-form writing. If the future of print media is truly the web, and if print will soon go the way of the dinosaur, what you’re suggesting is that we throw out in-depth reporting altogether.
    Whatever is involved in moving successfully to the web, journalism has a looong way to go before taking that suggestion…and thank goodness.
    Unfortunately, that particular bullet point reveals a lack of understanding about this field as a whole that makes the other comments a bit difficult to swallow. What might be actually useful is a list of how _real_ old media outlets can change what they do _now_ with the limited resources they have — and with all the old conventions they aren’t letting go of anytime soon.

  19. Alex S – no, I am not saying that. I am saying that all articles written for the paper should be formatted better for the Web (and for mobile). It’s not turning long and great editorials into checklists, but it *might* be about turning stories like, “how to winterize your house” into one that is easier and more web-friendly to read.
    I don’t think that this one bullet point does anything more than encourage publishers to not just re-publish their traditional stories online. They need to focus on what works in that channel and adapt their content accordingly.

Comments are closed.