Continuing Problems With Newspapers

July 11, 2008

We are expanding our network of partner newspapers, and it is profitable for us. But, the continuing surprise is that while newspapers continue to cut their workforces by 10-15% nearly every day, our telephone calls with the internet people at these papers shows they are either completely unaware about what is happening, or so rigidly fixed in their world of how a newspaper is run that they can’t make the leap into online business, unless you can show them it has a 200 year history.

Sometimes it takes a totally weird turn. Here is an example. One of the all time investment screw-ups was the Washington Post’s huge investment creating a hyperlocal site for Loudon County called Loudon Extra. The decision seems to have been made by a few people there, including the president of Washington Post online Caroline Little and Jim Brady, the paper’s executive editor. They made a decision all the ways they were raised to make it: hire the best graphic designers and programmers, pay for the best servers, get the most information. The problem is that Jim and Caroline live in a world of traditional media that renders their experience about how to run an online company useless. As a result, the Washington Post has the most beautiful site that nobody has ever and will ever, ever use.

So, I emailed Jim and told him that. I expected some introspection. His first reply to me reads:

“What do you have to offer us to solve that problem?”

We think Wikimetro does offer newspapers like the Post their only remedy: a hyper-local website with classifieds, organized around a wiki. Time will tell who is right.

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