My Sunday routine is set.
I am in the shrinking group that still goes to Sunday mass. I watch my favorite baseball team. Relax a bit. And at night I turn on the TV and “watch” the New York Times.
I mean I watch the New York Times show called “The Weekly,” a half hour show on the FX network that also streams on Hulu. There’s nothing new about a Sunday night news program. “60 Minutes” has been a staple in that slot for decades. But no journalism show with the quality of the Times has ever been on screen consistently and I am hooked as my favorite newspaper moves into a new medium for storytelling. (In an earlier column, I confessed fandom for the Times’ daily podcast called simply “The Daily.”)
The Times, with its 1,600 journalists spread across the world, is beating a big drum in an orchestra where few others can scarcely make a peep. But that does not mean we should not follow the lesson here: newspapers produce great journalism—and we need to deliver in more ways.
The podcast world is booming. Next to celebrities, journalists have some of the highest Twitter followings. New video streaming services are starving for content. Each of these deliverers has a channel with one thing in common—a hunger for great content. And who better to provide that local content than local journalists?
Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, said recently that unless local newspapers have a local billionaire behind them, most of them will be dead in five years. His time chart might or might not be off by a few years, but he’s right. Advertising and circulation revenue do not support a business model based on such heavy production and delivery costs. No business in any industry can survive for long this way.
But look at the content moves that have paid off in the past 30 years.
My old company—E.W. Scripps—started HGTV and invigorated The Food Network. What was a newspaper and TV station company doing in category television? Moving its content creators into a new medium. By all rights, Meredith, which owns Better Homes & Gardens, should have made this move. But it stayed in the magazine business.
Netflix eschewed the store for the stream. Craig Newmark asked why the “help wanted” ads had to wait until the morning newspaper. Bill Simmons hopped from print to television to websites to podcasts, taking a loyal following wherever he went. And whoever heard of an “app” 10 years ago?
Flexibility and adaptation are the keys.
Local newspapers have a following. A loyal following. No one is in the local news game as we are, so why tie yourself to the print model that Baquet says will be dead in half a decade? The delivery highways need us so let’s use them.
Look at Adam Davidson, the former New Yorker staff writer. He and Laura Mayer, former executive producer at the podcast company Stitcher, are partnering with Sony Music to create programs across a variety of topics. You can easily see this new company developing local markets. Be there first with your own podcast. Find a partner for the delivery. You create the content.
This is not for everyone, but ESPN and Fox Corp. are pushing hard into apps for domestic sports betting. What local content that you produce could you deliver on an app to your community?
What makes local newspapers so unique is the variety of content—from well-known and comfortable content such as columnists and popular sportswriters to the ever-changing breaking news, to being the only source of reporting on local school boards and city councils. Mix in the deep, local reporting on the critical issues in your community and you have a content mix that no one can touch.
Our industry has learned painful lessons about partnering with delivery platforms such as Facebook that took our content and offered little return. We are smarter now. Be it TV, or podcasting, or apps, or video, or even something that is going to be created in the next few years—let’s not wait for our ship to come in. Let’s untether from the anchor of print and swim out to meet those opportunities.
Tim Gallagher is president of The 20/20 Network, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning editor and publisher at The Albuquerque Tribune and the Ventura County Star newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.