Blogs are Like WalMart and Video Didn't Kill the Radio Star – Traditional Media Reinvention

Last week at ad:tech San Francisco there was a lot of talk about media and the impact that blogs and social media are having on traditional news.  I’m not a news expert, and have never worked in traditional news, but I think that traditional media can learn from how other industries adapted to significant shifts in the landscape.

While all forms of traditional media – from print to radio to tv news – seem to be struggling, the key question that needs to be asked is How do we reinvent ourselves to stay relevant?

Here are a few examples of how new and old paradigms of business have co-existed by adapting.

Blogs are like WalMart

Remember when WalMart started to grow and how communities reacted? Some communities tried to keep WalMart out, for fear that their local businesses would be destroyed.  The reality is that WalMart did put a lot of companies out of business – both retailers and suppliers.  Businesses that survived adapted their model and built their business around a strong value proposition.  They provided something that was more important than just price, or they died.  Despite the success of WalMart there are still new retail businesses starting every day.  They differentiate themselves on quality, selection, location, convenience, etc and thrive and grow despite WalMart.

Blogs are the WalMart of the media world.  They create content that people like for a lower price.  Most bloggers publish as a labor of love – they don’t need a huge paycheck.  Big blog publications have a different cost structure than traditional media, so they can generate profits from online display ads (a cost structure that won’t work for most traditional media).

In order for traditional media to survive the content revolution (where everyone is a content creator), they have to adapt their strategy to focus on their core value proposition – investigative journalism.

Most bloggers (not all) don’t do a lot of primary research.  They actually build their stories on stats, facts and research from traditional media and use it as a source for their articles.  Traditional media should be The Resource for investigative journalism – a service that is needed for bloggers to exist.

I have a friend who is a TV news producer.  To “create” the news producers do research.  They check facts.  They look up stats.  They get multi-media from different sources, or create it themselves.  They go out and interview a variety of people.  They investigate and report. These core competencies of traditional media must be heightened to create a clear value proposition.

Video Killed the Radio Star

Actually, it didn’t.  When TV and video came along, radio didn’t die – it adapted.  Now I wasn’t around at the time, but if you look at the evolution of radio, prior to mass adoption of TV radio was a platform for both music and story-telling entertainment. Families would gather around the radio and listen to stories for entertainment.

Then TV came along.  Radio wasn’t really the best medium for story-telling type entertainment – TV was.  So, TV focused on fictional story-telling entertainment and radio focused on music.  Radio adapted the content to focus on content areas where it could win – music, call-in talk shows, etc.

Both TV and radio continue to exist but with different content and in different use cases.

So What Now?

There are some traditional media sites that have innovative views about how they can adapt.

Chris Graves at the Cincinnati Enquirer launched a program called LOL: Locals on Living .  LOL creates content for both the web and print editions, and it clearly changes the cost structure for the enquirer (no full time writers creating content). Clicking on the blogs opened 2 highly annoying ad pop-up windows, however as the model evolves perhaps there will be opportunities to find different revenue streams.  It launched last July and has expanded to integrate local bloggers from lifestyle content to Sports Content (see SportsTalkCentral).  The program is beginning to dip into news/business with the integration of BuildingCincinnati, which is featured both on our business and news page. They currently integrate 17 bloggers on the site.

According to Chris Graves “As it relates to LOL, using voices from our community in the area of fashion, food, couponing, health & fitness was really a no-brainer for us. We need to preserve our newsgathering and First Amendment work in a very dark economic time for our industry. We were – and we remain – deeply committed to keeping our local reporters in place in an effort to preserve great local storytelling and our watchdog role in the community. We weren’t and aren’t likely to have fashion, food, gardening and fitness reporter and local bloggers are passionate about those topics.  By using local bloggers to cover those areas, we have been able to do what newsgathering organizations do: We have sent reporters and photographers to Haiti to report on what local folks are doing in the efforts in that devasted area. We have aggressive covered violence in Cincinnati as well as ongoing stories and investigations on how much money ($100,000+) government retirees are making with their public pensions as city services are being slashed. We have also continued our editorial stand and commitment to weighing in and opining on local issues (like Issue One).”

At ad:tech Chris Anderson, EIC of Wired shared information about how Tablets can provide new opportunities for publishers.  By leveraging interactivity and the tablet technology, publishers may have the opportunity to charge for content vs. the current web model where everything is free.  It will be interesting to see if this plays out.

What do you think?

How can news sites continue to thrive?  Quality investigative journalism is important for our society, but traditional media outlets are struggling with their business models.  How can they reinvent themselves?  Have you seen other examples of this?


  1. Krista,

    I agree that a big part of the solution is differentiating themselves from blogger and returning to investigative journalism as the backbone of their content. I also think that there is an opportunity to leverage local bloggers and feature their work within the newspaper’s website or online addition. This way, the bloggers get more exposure and the newspaper gets cheap (or free) content. I’m surprised more organizations haven’t tried this model.

    I also think that newspapers should focus on being hyper-local when it comes to content. I wonder if people would miss any of the syndicated world news which I don’t go to my local paper for anyway. More ink and space for local events and in-depth local news. I’ll get my world info from NPR, BBC, and the NYT.

  2. Agreed that traditional journalists and their employers need to find a way to differentiate themselves from the bloggers, but no matter what they do, they’re going to have a VERY hard time convincing people to pay at the rates that will support their current expense structure. I’ve tought quite a bit about this, and I can’t think of anything they could offer that would convince me to pay.

    Investigative journalism is a great idea, but can be easily crowdsourced and engineered via social networking, again at little to no cost to the publisher provided that they have an interested and connected group to help them, which many do, especially on a subject that effects the readership. Inevitably, some reader will work in public records and give people the tools to find the information, someone (like me!) will have some pretty gnarly database chops and enable the group to employ business intelligence on their collected data, etc. These are things that people will provide for free, if they like the cause, and they like the organizers. Got a great reputation and want some help in figuring something out? I’d bet that you can get the work done for free.

    Reputation is quickly becoming very, very important for everyone, and I am pretty sure that if we can manage to make it a few hundred years without blowing ourselves up that reputation will eventually be codified and replace money in a post scarcity society.

    You’re seeing some of the effects of post scarcity with information today in the destruction of the content distribution industry, the news industry, etc. Take a note that many of these struggling industries are in the information brokerage business, which is fast becoming so inexpensive and ubiquitous that it is basically up for grabs for anyone that wants to do it. It costs virtually nothing to move information around, so why should we pay aggregators to do it for us? The majority of the news industry isn’t a whole lot better at delivering the news than a well informed and cautious blogger.

    Of course those in the news industry will cry to the heavens that they DO add value and there are huge gaps in how bloggers do things. The real question is, are those differences valuable to the consumers or not? I, personally, don’t think so, not enough to justify the price tag they’ll be asking to keep their aging institutions afloat.

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