It shouldn’t be that tough for newspapers to figure out this newfangled Digital Age-thing before it’s too late — except that it’s journalists doing the figuring.
Here, for free, from a ex-newspaper guy who did everything he could for 35 years to make papers livelier, more interesting and more ideologically diverse, is how to turn your average daily newspaper around and turn it back into a relevant news-making, news-breaking force for the public good:
Take 20 young reporters, give them iPhones, a laptop, a decent camera, a geographic beat — and tell them to get out of the office and never come back unless there’s a going-away party they have to attend.
All day long the reporters are supposed to cruise their territories, looking for real news but also blogging about whatever they see that’s interesting, funny, important, etc. They should interview people on the street or wherever. They should take photos or video of car wrecks or drug dealers or other photo-ops.
The reporters’ content should go straight to the newspaper’s digital news desk where it is put up on the (geographically organized) web site as fast and as lightly edited as possible. Mistakes will be made; big deal; mistakes will be fixed in three seconds.
If a plane crashes in her territory, the reporter is right there with instant photos and quick tweets and blogs and content sent to the digital news desk — which can now break the video and news faster and better than TV or radio can; no longer is the newspaper last with the news, but first (again). Other reporters and their iPhones flock to the plane crash scene ASAP, blogging, tweeting, reporting their butts off.
The web site editors build the story on the fly (sorry, plane crash victims) from reporters’ reports/photos/video, plus citizen/crowd input. The web site eventually hands off everything it has to the print people, who use the web content and other content (perspective, analysis, whatever) to put the big (or little) story together for the next day’s newspaper.
Web site first, paper second. Every day. All scoops appear on the web first.
On Day 2, the paper’s deeper content is stashed/archived on the web site ASAP for the rest of eternity, where it can — unlike the last 100 years of newspapers’ content — be found easily by all.
Monetize this process; tout the news-breaking, bottoms-up, in-your-community coverage of the digital side and take full advantage of the digital age. Make a real news partnership with a TV station.
Put the deep, smart, ideologically diverse analysis and commentary in the paper first, then move it to the web; do investigative stuff in the paper first, then to the web.
Use the web to promote and feed the paper and the paper to promote and feed the web.
Trust the reporters.
Trust the readers.
Make apps about movies, clubs, restaurants, sports, etc., that a kid might want to be caught dead downloading.
It’s already too late.