Newspapers want search engines to pay

I hate to sound like numeeja tard Kyle Shannon in 1995, but old media just don’t get it. They want news aggregators to pay for using their headlines—never mind that most of these newspapers would suffer ginormous drops in online readership if it weren’t for sites like Google News directing traffic their way. The search engines are doing what the old media are too stupid to do for themselves: make their content easily searchable as a body. They greedily assume they can maintain the same level of readership and web traffic without the news aggregators.

There are better ideas for improving your online profits, newsdorks.

Stop thinking you’re a one-stop news source. You’re not. Most of your visitors are not the same day after day. You aren’t the only place they go. Your readers are now used to first choosing from a palette of possible topics, and then determining which sources to read. They’re nowhere near as likely (except for notable exceptions such as the really, really big media outlets, such as the New York Times) to first visit your site and then decide what to read. Instead, like any daily site, be it blog, blute, or Dagbladet, you get bursts of traffic because of significant news coverage. This means you need outside sources pointing to your content, which means you need to start collaborating with online media, bloggers, and others who can interweave your existing presence with the Internet instead of trying to make it a stand-alone does-all site. (Don’t you wish you’d done this sort of thing for your classifieds before Craigslist started eating your lunch?)

Open up your archives. They should be free. Never expire old articles. Never remove articles from your web site. Decorate those archived articles with ads. Make each article have a unique permanent URL. Permit deep-linking. The more online content you have, the larger the web presence you will have, the more likely your site will be to turn up as the result of searches, the more people will see your ads, the more people will click on them. This will increase your mind share. This will enhance your status as an authoritative source. This will make you money.

Promote yourselves. Every day I have reason to visit the web sites of hundreds of newspapers, radio stations, and television stations around the world. Very, very few do any marketing of their web site outside of their own offline media outlet—newspapers promote their web sites on the printed page, radio stations promote their web sites on their frequency, television stations promote their web sites on their channel. It’s a closed loop. Many of those web sites are not listed in any of the web portals or search engine directories. A ridiculous number do not even tell you what city or state they operate in—it’s been all but impossible, in some cases, to discover this information without a “whois” search or visit their weather link, if they have one. They do this because they naively assume their audience is local. It isn’t. There are strangers who come and who buy things, strangers who might just be interested in what these media outlets have to offer. These are strangers who might be investing in your community, who might be moving a family there, who might be looking for a vacation spot, who might be wanting to retire to the town they grew up in—or who might just want to read what your colorful newspaper columnist has to say.

Use the Internet. Where’s your newspaper’s Flickr feed for your staff photographers? Where’s the blog run by your reporter? Where are your reporters commenting on other blogs about their area of expertise? (Messages to Romanesko do not count.) Where’s the deli.cio.us account of hot links your television staff likes? Where’s a list of your on-air personalities’ favorite YouTube videos? Where’s your Slashcode-based self-moderated blog for your readers to submit items of interest?

My own newspaper experience was short and small-time, so I feel a bit like a bootblack making suggestions on building a bridge, but old media are, in fact, still missing the point. Get with it, stegosaurus, or die. The meteor is on its way.

Posted February 1, 2006

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