Online technology and the newspapers

Just the other day during my rant against the local dailies for not adequately covering the story behind the funding for the terrible trio of initiatives, I mentioned that newspapers are strangely resistant to new technologies that could bring in extra revenue. As if on cue, the New York Times reported on the Washington Post’s contract with an online aggregator, which will post links to other newspapers on the WaPo’s site. It’s a rarity for papers to acknowledge that their traditional counterparts exist, let alone send ‘em their readers.

It’s counterintuitive — to traditional publishers, at least — but putting links up on your site to other related sites only increases your own page views.

Newspaper Web sites, which commonly post articles from sister publications, wire services and even blogs, have typically stopped short of providing generous doses of news from competitors. The move made by these papers is not a result of cooperation across the industry as it is a counterattack by publishers against Google and Yahoo, which have stolen readers and advertisers from newspapers in recent years, both with their search engines and their own news aggregation services.

Those, like me, who want to read the news first go to Google’s “News” page and check out the top stories for the day. Each story has a number of links — a reader can quickly cycle through all the different newspapers’ versions. You can also enter a name or topic and see the different papers’ stories. That’s how I see the different coverage of, say, Montana’s initiatives.

The point is, the Billings Gazette, say, could retain all the clicks related to my searches on local issues with a similar aggregator. Imagine, you open a Gazette story about Schweitzer — in the sidebar, you’d see all the other Montana papers’ stories on that same topic. Why would you start or end on any other Montana newspaper? All the clicks lost by the other papers are gained by the Gazette.

The ironic part of this story is that it’s the Times reporting on the Post’s innovation. Lately the Times has lost favor among bloggers because it put all of its regular columnists behind its firewall. You have to pay to read portions of its content. Thousands of political junkies transferred daily devotion to the Washington Post, which has augmented its print coverage with extra online content — bloggers, comments, live chats with reporters and the ombudsman, etc. Suddenly the WaPo — among the online community — has become the paper of record.

The Missoulian, by denying online users some of its content and having an awkward user interface, is in danger of becoming irrelevant outside of its immediate locale, especially if another Montana paper used an aggregator. Why would anyone ever visit the Missoulian’s online site again? (Except if you happen to live in Missoula.)

The point to this post is a plea for openness and availability. It’s good for business, it’s good for the community, and it’s good for partisan hacks and their broke-down blogs, like this one.

  1. Good post and interesting stuff. have you ever thought of using a new word for the kind of reading we do online? as opposed to reading on paper. I coined the word SCREENING for reading online, but wonder what your reax might be, pro or con. see my blog here. DANNY BLOOM, reporter, Taiwan, from Tufts 1971

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