Turning the Virtual Page

David Weir posted an interesting diatribe about the inability of media to innovate. This is hardly news to any of us, but the following is a good reminder: 

Those open to change, who embrace change, those who apply their own creative thinking to changing circumstances will adapt and survive, and — if they are very lucky — even thrive.

I’ve been harping about non-profits lately and how I believe they might be the key to the survival of journalism in this evolving technology age. But this post reminded me that I should make a few things clear.

1) I do not believe non-profits will take over the industry soon.

I was reminded by a fellow journalist the other day that innovations rarely overlap. The bottom often needs to drop out before someone will take the time to build a new platform on which to stand.

I think journalism, as we know it, will have to fail colossally before newspaper people abandon the for-profit model. But when the public realizes what it has lost, and born journalists are twiddling their fingers in public relations offices, the demand will be realized, and a new era of journalism will be born.

2) Non-profits must innovate, too.

The traditional non-profit model used by media outlets, such as NPR, PBS and the St. Petersburg Times, likely won’t be the models used in the future. Perhaps it will be some kind of blend, where a corporate sponsor agrees to sponsor some regular feature on the news site and donors contribute for the rest.

If we learn nothing else from this disaster journalism is encountering, let it be this: nothing is set in stone. Everyone must innovate, or, sooner or later, they will fail.

3) Non-profit does not automatically mean success.

One needs look no further than IWantMyRocky.com to see that switching to a non-profit model isn’t always a recipe for success. Like with any business, nothing is a sure thing. News sites must be able to garner a niche audience that isn’t being satisfied by another outlet.

I don’t know exactly why IWantMyRocky failed, but I have some theories. Perhaps people weren’t willing to pay for online news in Denver when The Denver Post is giving it to them for free. Perhaps people were not as loyal to the Rocky Mountain News as they led us to believe.

Perhaps they simply tried to move horizontally when they should have turned the whole damn thing upside down and inside out.

Whatever the case, newspapers and news sites are not going to make any headway until they discard the old ideas and start coming up with new, innovative concepts.

And, speaking of innovation, I would encourage you to check out Scooping the News’ evaluation of innovation among the top newspaper Web sites. Each week, they evaluate newspaper Web sites based on five categories to determine how much the site has innovated during the past five years. They also link to samples of what the site used to look like and what it looks like now.

Some notable innovators: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune 

And the notable laggards: The Oregonian, Chicago Tribune and The Florida Times-Union

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