The reason that new media must be multi-media is that a web page can contain text, images, audio, and video. To remain fully competitive online, then, you should provide as many of those as your users can get value from (hint: at least 3 of the 4). And we’ve been seeing it for sometime. Where CNN used to be television news, they’re web portal is completely multi-media, and more recently, newspapers have started to embrace video.

But if that’s enough, how come newspapers are still struggling? Well, the answer is that it’s not enough. Newspapers have a business model that has evolve to need two revenue streams: ad sales and subscriptions. And when it comes to their online portals, they face a double whammy that (1) ad sales aren’t sufficient, and (2) users are loath to pay for online content.

If newspapers are not going to go the way of the dodo, then, they need to find a way to both increase their ad sales revenues and entice users to pay for content. Well, Tom Foremski (a former Financial Times journalist) has some ideas on how newspapers can reinvent themselves. For Tom, what it comes down to, is that newspapers have to become more than what they are now. They have to become news organizations, who (1) sieze control of their own ad revenues, and (2) own not just their content, but their stories and their beat. Here’s just a few of Tom’s ideas:

– Focus on original content, do not rewrite wire stories or press releases–people are more likely pay for content they can’t get anywhere else.

– Focus on hyper-local coverage, newspapers should “own” their regional beat because they have the best contacts and the best understanding of local companies and issues.

– Be a regular and visible part of your local communities by getting out of the office and into those communities.

– Celebrate the best citizen journalists/bloggers in your communities, publish them on your platform.

– Don’t let advertising networks sell your advertising. They take a huge cut for serving ads and you lose the customer connection. Newspapers should always own their customer relationship.

– Online readers that want to pay, have no way of paying for the the news except by buying a newspaper subscription! PBS does quite well with membership packages that include discounts from local businesses, while keeping broadcasts freely available. That’s a model that could be offered by newspapers.

– Become the host for all important discussions about local issues and politics. Moderate the discussions to ensure civil discourse. Nothing kills discussions faster than offensive comments made by anonymous people.

There are bunch more, and Tom does a great job of leading into them by outlining the current plight of newspapers. What’s interesting, though, is that there are two strains of thought co-mingling here: a business theory and a social theory.

On the business side, newspapers seem fated to embrace vertical integration or die. That have to sieze control of both their production and ad sales if they’re going to adapt. Vertical integration was largely overshadowed by horizontal integration in the 70s and 80s, but if there’s anything that the credit crisis has demonstrated, it’s that outsourcing your primary value proposition is not sustainable in the long-term.

I think that the businesses and industries that pull through this recession will be ones that find a way vertically integrate their operations in a profitable way. Now, doing so is no easy trick. It’s a lot easier to outsource and show returns than to “insource” and do so, but I guess that’s the difference between business-innovation and business-as-usual. As we’re starting to figure out, business-as-usual isn’t much business at all.

On the social side, Tom is talking about reconciling social media with both a business and editorial mandate. This is interesting because it’s not the usual evangelical kool-aid where you take a few sips and it all marshmellows and strawberry shortcake on a yellow submaring.

Rather, he’s saying this is what users expect online, so if you do find something to offer them that they’re willing to pay for, then it better come bundled with that as a bell and whistle.

He’s not suggesting that newspapers become aggregators of localized UGC. No, he’s saying that newspapers have to leverage social media tools to better connect with their readers and their community so that they can more easily (and efficiently, and cheaply) produce content that (maybe) someone will be willing to pay for.

Granted, as my buddy Ash once pointed out, “Mainstream media just isn’t what it used to be. They’re slow to react. That statement could apply to business or editorial.” I think what Tom is getting at, though, is that if some (of the better) newspapers change their way of thinking now, they might be able to adapt to the changing media landscape both more quickly and more profitably in the future.

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