Straying from the herd

It’s almost always a good idea to do the opposite of what the herd is doing.

Why? When entire industries head in one direction, they leave a vacuum behind. No one is serving the customers who prefer things the way the industry used to do them.

Take the newspaper industry. The herd mentality at the moment is to cut. Cut reporters. Cut reporting. Cut pages. Cut home delivery. Cut days of the week.

And move. Move online. Hope that former paper readers will adapt to a new digital format. Hope that they’ll pay for content that can probably be found elsewhere, since no reporters are writing original stories.

But what about the readers who liked the paper the old way? You know—local stories written by reporters who covered a beat. It was delivered to your door every morning. What are they to do?

It seems like newspapers have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. When newspaper profits slowed, management threw in the towel and hoped to save money by going online with the same content, but less of it.

Newspapers did need to cede territory to the Internet in some key areas: breaking news and regional, national and world news. Local newspapers are not well-equipped to cover those types of stories. By their nature, the news in the morning paper is already six or seven hours old at the very least. That’s a lifetime in the digital age.

However, newspapers are very well-positioned to cover hyper-local news. Aggregators like Yahoo! or Google, or even established news sites like CNN, are not going to send a reporter and photographer out to every high school football game in the area, like the Orange County Register in Southern California is doing.

The OCR has added reporters, increased the size of the paper, and even improved the quality of the paper stock itself. They send out a reporter and photographer to each of the 50-some high school football games every Friday night.

They’re not following the herd to the Internet. Is it working? New owner Aaron Kushner says circulation is up 5.3 percent year-over-year, while the industry trend shows decline in subscribers. He says ad revenues are up, but won’t say by how much.

So far, not following the herd is paying off. “If you don’t have a tangible way to grow revenue, you only have one alternative, and that’s to cut costs. That path may well work. That’s not the path we’re on here,” says Kushner.

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