I sat in at my last Syndicate conference session yesterday (December 14, 2005) which was a case study by Knight Ridder Digital. Ross Settles of Knight Ridder Digital spoke about how they approached positioning themselves for the online medium. Additionally. Chris Tolles of Topix.net and Anil Dash of Six Apart were also part of the session and added their experiences in working with Knight Ridder.
Ross highlighted how KRD got help from Topix.net to identify verticals or categories that were traffic drivers but were being under exposed by KRD's previous strategy. Once these content light areas were determined, Ross and his team started to find ways to fill the content void in those areas with bloggers (using Six Apart), journalists and even content aggregation technologies (using Topix.net).
Out of the discussion the speakers were asked to describe/forecast the vision and role of a newspaper looking five years out.
According to his remarks at the session, the future of the newspapers in the eyes of Ross Settles five years out is one of more broad content creators, a.k.a. more investment to create content that you cannot get by just searching the web. He sees adding additional local content on local government and other areas of interest to a local user. Also he stated journalistic principles need to adapted and the data about the local market needs to be aggregated and tapped into more readily. Advertising information is important and is probably one of the most important things published. In closing Ross said:
"You should think of the newspaper as an institution and in doing so the physical presence gives a newspaper credibility to sell things locally. Newspapers should realize this and invest in it. Those that do not will probably go away."
Chris Tolles of Topix.net also expressed his opinion on the future of newspapers:
"There is a business to find out information that is not via a keyword based search. If you are looking for a particular thing. What should I know today? That is something could really be helpful. Information discovery is a whole different type of need to be met. I think newspapers could go this route. The innovators dilemma is that the news industry has created such an expensive institution to keep going as is."
Tolles drew references to the Worse is Better post about software development and how stuff that is built lousy is easier to fix. This idea transcends into Web 2.0 principles to as seen in the ever present Beta. This idea of flawed or "worse" products makes it difficult to compete on a level playing field since publishers including newspapers are institutions that thrive on accuracy and being better. Additionally, Chris Tolles said:
"The newspaper business will be altered and augmented by things that are not better. Newspapers will never die. They will just need to learn to adapt to continue to position themselves as a viable resource."
He has a very good point. I agree with him, so it really is just a matter of positioning a newspaper site to offer the most value to your users needs. Users first, more or less.