No Media Entity Can Afford To Operate In a Vacuum

By: Steve Outing

In last week’s column about how print publications need to adapt to survive

in the Internet age, I closed out with a small bit of advice:

Accept the fact that your printed newspaper or magazine is

only one piece in the information stew being served up to future news

consumers. Try to guide them through our information-rich culture,

rather than trying to hold on to them solely – which is a lost

cause in a media environment where there are so many


Reader Dale Pearson of The FSBO Store & Magazine wrote

in with this reaction:

‘I’d strongly suggest that you move (that) point to the
top of the list. This should not be an afterthought. This IS the
heart and soul of the matter! This is what is causing headaches for
newspaper editors. Unfortunately, until the old-timers retire or die off,
the industry will be stuck with this thinking.’

He’s right, and this notion of ‘no media entity is an island’ deserves

to be explored further.

Why this is so

Surely you’ve noticed that the media environment has gone through a sea

change. The growth of the Internet has created a powerful new

communications medium that is rivaling old-timers like newspapers,

magazines, radio, and TV. But it’s done more than that: It’s also

profoundly affected ‘traditional’ media.

Before the Internet, media entities went about their business:
Mostly hoarding their own content – and only distributing it in

limited ways, such as with selected content distributed to wire

services, but seldom if ever to entities considered to be competitors.

With the goal of capturing readers/viewers as their own
– rarely, if ever, sending their customers to other media outlets.

This made sense in an overall media environment where the total number

of outlets was a finite and manageable number. A newspaper could count

on its paying subscribers getting most of their information needs met

with the paper, though they probably also listened to radio news and

watched TV news. But for local news coverage, local retail advertising,

and local classifieds, consumers didn’t have many other options. Local

TV stations worked hard to be viewers’ favorite station, having little

incentive to tell people to look elsewhere for information that they

couldn’t provide because of the time constraints of the broadcast

medium. And so on.

What’s different today – now that the Internet is a full-blown news

and information medium – is that the media market has grown

exponentially. To lapse into metaphor, pre-Internet, the sky had a lot

of stars, but it was still possible for a single star to shine brightly

enough that ‘viewers’ of that star would not be tempted (too much) to

look elsewhere. (It wasn’t that convenient to look elsewhere.)

Now the sky is crowded with millions of new stars (Web sites) that

distract viewers. Many of these stars are tiny, yet useful, and their

sheer number takes away time that people used to spend looking at the

old stars. Other new stars shine as brightly and are as well-funded as

the old-media stars. (It’s now super-convenient and easy for consumers

to look elsewhere than an established media product.)

So, what’s old media to do, faced with this new competition from a new


1. Share your content

To continue the metaphor briefly, stop trying to be a star that shines

brightly enough to distract viewers from the millions of other stars,

and start spreading your light around the sky – so as viewers look

around, they’ll see you in the form of your content appearing at other

media outlets. Don’t expect consumers to come only to the Web site (or

newspaper, or TV channel) that you want them to use. There are simply

too many options in the new communications environment that we’ve

created – so you must figure out how to get to consumers wherever

they happen to be.

That means sharing your content with all those new Web ‘competitors.’

Stop thinking of all those sites as competition for your audience’s

attention, and start thinking of them as allies in getting your content

in front of more people.

Web syndication companies (like Screaming Media and iSyndicate ) provide

a good first step. They aggregate content from a wide variety of content

providers and distribute it to a wide spectrum of Web content buyers

– including the promising market of corporate Web sites, intranets,

and vertical portals that seek niche news coverage to enhance their own


New-comer also is worth investigating. That

company provides an automated online rights service that allows any

reader of your content (whether published online or in print) to quickly

purchase republication rights – whether an individual seeking

multiple-photocopy permission or a commercial publisher wanting to

reprint an article. (Look at the bottom of any Los Angeles Times
article to see this in action.)

These syndication and rights-clearinghouse companies aren’t just for

online content providers; they make sense for traditional news

media entities too. Just as Web sites need to distribute their content

(and thus brand) throughout the Web in order to get noticed, old-media

entities need to spread their content around as a means of retaining and

growing an audience in this environment of media over-saturation.

2. Co-opt your ‘competitors’

I will go so far as to suggest that in our current media environment,

news publishers should narrow their view of who they treat like

‘competitors.’ In licensing content to other publishers, be flexible in

allowing companies that are competitive to purchase your content.

For example, many newspaper companies which operate Web sites consider

online city guides that operate in their markets as competitors –

and that’s certainly the case. But in our current media environment,

it’s better to get the newspaper’s content on the competitive city guide

site because it builds the paper’s brand recognition (not to mention

that it brings in content licensing fees). To exclude a Web competitor

from taking your content is a missed opportunity to spread the light of

your star around the Web sky.

Withholding cooperation from those you consider competitors is old-media

thinking. Engaging in mutually beneficial relationships, such as sharing

your content with a competitor for a financial and branding payback, is

new-media thinking more appropriate to a world of a ‘million channels’

where it’s difficult to keep readers’ attention.

3. Be like a portal

Many a news and other type of company has decided to create a ‘portal’

Web site – providing users with a first stop that directs them to a

wide variety of content from external sources. Even if your Web site or

traditional media organization is not a portal, you can benefit from

employing a portal-like strategy.

In our information-rich society, no single media entity can serve every

information consumer’s every need. Consumers will rely on multiple media

– a news Web site for breaking news; a newspaper for analysis and

context; a TV show for educational programming; etc. And because so many

types of information are available with a few clicks, it’s foolhardy to

pretend that your lone publication, Web site, or TV program can do


The early success of the major Web portals (Yahoo!, Excite, et al)

indicates the promise of the portal approach. In our new-media

environment – of an overload of information and ease of finding new

information sources – it’s a useful and popular service to help

people find what they need.

Web sites need not be afraid to link to others. (You’ll find links to

other Web sites’ articles on pure new-media company news sites –

such as and The Industry Standard – moreso than on

the Web sites of old-media companies.) Your Web site is more likely to

be indispensable to its audience if it provides a filtered window to the

world beyond its proprietary content.

Likewise for traditional media outlets, they are more likely to be

successful if they can serve as a guide or filter to the information

glut that consumers face today. So newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV

stations need to get past the idea that they are an island. They need to

build bridges to the rest of the world, connecting to the wealth of

information and services that is the Internet.

It’s a different media world here in the year 2000. You only have to

look up at the stars crowding each other in the sky to know that you

have to do business differently in order to stand out.

This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Online.

Tips, letters, and feedback can be sent to Steve at

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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