There’s another flurry of ‘Newspapers Are Dead‘ posts this weekend. Dave Winer seemed to have triggered this by his post on the troubles at the San Francisco Chronicle. Robert Scoble has taken up the theme as he did some months ago. Even the Google Guys and Dave Barry have voiced the same views in the past.
Mark Evans takes the opposite tack in proclaiming that Scoble is wrong. However he suggests that circulation figures show that newspapers are growing. He then seems to spike his own argument by mentioning that this is largely explained by the growth of free newspapers. Doc Searl takes a more helpful line in suggesting a number of different ways the newspapers can avoid their untimely fate.
So often this ongoing conflict is represented as the battle of the journalists versus the bloggers. However I believe there are more fundamental reasons why the newspapers are finding it difficult to move with the times. It’s because newspaper publishers have a long tradition spanning centuries of producing printed newspapers. They’re good at it but they, like many others, assume the Internet is merely an alternative communication channel to transport their wares. Developing an effective website on the Internet is fundamentally different. Here are three principal reasons why newspapers are having problems.
- Graphic Design is fundamentally different from Web Design. A viewer looking at a printed page is going through a very different experience from a reader looking at a web page. Not the least, he or she is probably willing to look at only 25% of the content that might be acceptable on a printed page.
- Given that most people find things with Google, Yahoo! or one of the other search engines, an effective website must be search engine visible. Online newspapers are often not set up with this intent.
- Moving around any website must give a pleasing user experience or the visitor will click away to more welcoming websites. This is what is called Usability and it requires special attention. Trying to mimic the printed version on the Internet will be disastrous.
Any newspaper that can accept this different mindset can develop an effective online presence. In turn this can be supportive of the printed version and may even encourage readership. Only a few newspapers are showing they understand this Digital Divide that must be crossed.