WAN: 'Newspapers must become hub of local activity'

Newspaper websites must become the “hub of all local activity” if they want to keep growing their audience, according to Newspaper Association of America vice president for business development Randy Bennett.

He told the World Association of Newspapers readership conference in Amsterdam that individual US newspaper websites have experienced “very little” growth in visitors and usage over the last four years and were now “experimenting with new products to increase loyally and usage”.

He said that one solution for newspapers was for them to become “the hub of all local activity – the destination for all communication and information in that market”.

“They must focus products on providing specific needs for readers and advertisers,” he said.

“As a result, the strategy should be to aggregate audience segments by providing relevant content services as well as getting in front of audiences where they are congregating.

“We must be a trusted source for all relevant content created by us, or others – professionals or amateurs.

“We must give users a tool for extracting the content they need and create a platform for interactive conversation.

“As we focus on needs, we will have to invest more in research and marketing and must replace traditional revenue with streams of revenue from new models.”

Bennett gave a number of examples of US newspapers that had been looking at new strategies online.

  • The Chicago Tribune has a variety of hyperlocal sites built by information from both professionals and from the consumers that visit the site.
  • Florida Today offers “watchdog” consumer forums where users can share among themselves solutions – such as issues around insurance companies.
  • Petaluma360 in California invites residents to blog about what matters to them, with the school superintendent blogging about eduction.

“People in our communities want to discuss and share, and newspapers should be the destination where it takes place”, Bennett said. He added that the key to new audiences was aggregation.

“Newspapers have been experimenting with a variety of niche publications,” he said.

“The end game has been aggregating for the audiences most attractive to advertisers, providing opportunities for non traditional advertisers to reach these audiences.

“While they have been successful in driving audience grow with these products, the challenge has been to drive enough growth to reach profitability.”

Bennett added that newspapers should be aggregating all news relevant to their audience – from television stations, other news sources, blogs and twitter.

“The goal is not just to provide the relevant content, but to provide the tools to help users manage the content and manage their lives,” he said, referring to tools such as local maps.

Bennett admitted when asked that these extra tools are yet to drive revenue. He said: “The strategy newspapers have gone in on to create these social media platforms is as an audience tool, how do we bring audiences to our brand, how do we built awareness for the other products that we have?

“We don’t know quite what the business model is to drive revenue, that model may emerge from the larger sites.”

But he added: “We need to understand more about people that are coming to our products and buid a database of information to monetise the product.

“To date, a couple of the social networks launched by newspapers have closed down due to lack of revenue. But they’re more marketing tools to engage people.”

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