Author and inventor Roger von Oech once said, “It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago but will soon be out of date.” This quote sums up the news media industry along with many other industries. It is human nature to cling to that which we know and understand, in lieu of venturing off into the unknown and unproven. That said, the greatest rewards are reserved for those willing to wander off the beaten path into the abyss.
When we view the above quote and thought process through the lens of an audience mindset, I might suggest our view of audience might be an antiquated view from the past. Yes, we can certainly view our audience in terms of subscribers, both print and digital as we should. On the other hand, does that long established, and somewhat traditional viewpoint, limit our total audience growth potential? If we stick to a traditional definition or viewpoint of audience, we are then settling for the small minority within our markets while leaving out the vast majority of the market.
Some will say our core mission is journalism and providing valuable information to our audience as defined by a particular geographic area. I would differ just slightly and say we have a dual core mission. Yes, journalism might be the end result of what we do, however, an equal and just as important core mission is to build or create a sustainable revenue model that supports those valuable journalism efforts. You don’t have one without the other, plain and simple.
So, where does that leave us as it relates to our audience? Watching the trends and seeing the slow destruction of the industry, we would be well-served to expand our definition of audience, and do so quickly. Our print audience continues to erode, and our digital audience only provides funding for the small shell of what we once were. Neither provides a bright future by themselves.
The time has come to expand our footprint outside of traditional journalism and information realm and into a total market is our playground approach. Providing non-journalism and informational products is a must. The example I use might be concert or event tickets. As Jason Taylor, president of events and promotions with Gannett, has pointed out for years, creating and providing various events in our markets can be a goldmine, and these are largely dollars otherwise not attained with the traditional audience mindset. On the advertising front, Aaron Kotarek, senior vice president of audience/operations, and Oahu Publications have educated us on the value of Out-of-Home advertising venues, one of the few growing advertising mediums on the market. TapOnIt’s founder and CEO Katie Castillo-Wilson created an entire company based on innovation and breaking the status quo of the industry. I could name more, but you get the message.
As an industry, we have had some successes and failures, that is par for the course. In fact, if we haven’t experienced many failures, we are simply not trying hard enough. Innovators understand there are more failures than victories, but the wins are great and outperform all the failures in massive ways. Our industry is full of brilliant people, but often times those brilliant people are stuck behind traditional leadership that have placed roadblocks in the way. I would submit the most valuable employees in our organizations are those willing to take the road less traveled.
It is time for our industry to step up and lead in the area of innovation. We are in a unique position to bring new ideas to market easier than most. We are in a position where new revenue is going to be critical for us to survive in the future. Yes, we must continue evolving and improving on the journalism side, but all of that will be for naught if we don’t improve on the revenue side as well.
John Newby is the founder of the 360 Media Alliance. He also authors the weekly column, “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” which focuses on bringing local media and their communities closer together through common synergies and causes to grow revenue. He can be reached at john@360MediaAlliance.net.