Today’s newspaper — no longer tomorrow’s fish wrap

Conventional wisdom says that newspapers have a short and well-defined shelf life. But conventional wisdom went out the window with the technology boom and the changes newspapers are continually making to their businesses.

Technology allows everyone to be connected and have access to whatever information they seek; everything is “news,” and “news” is everywhere.

Journalists collect and aggregate content and then have the opportunity to package, and repackage it, then distribute it across a variety of channels.

The lines that once differentiated traditional media have blurred and therein lies the opportunity: The rule book is gone.

Newspapers can provide content in the same way as any other media organisation. Traditional off-line channels continue to define media organisations, but the Internet levels the playing field.

For the traditional print media, content covers a lot of ground. The format, timing, and packaging have designated some products as magazines and some as newspapers. The range of products, from newsprint to glossy, daily to twice yearly, produced definitions and labels for the different offerings.

Newspapers have always covered the entire spectrum of print products. However, advertisers slot some publications into one silo and others into another. Buying decisions and research strategies are based on these outdated labels.

Now buyers are asking newspapers to put their content into another silo: digital properties and digital audiences. This does not make sense for a publisher who wants to promote content across a number of platforms and measure and sell the audiences to brands across all those channels.

What do audiences want? They want content — information and news. They go to trusted and familiar sources. Publishers are those voices, not the newsprint, glossy pages, or words on a screen.

Publishers have the content; the next step is getting it packaged and distributed.Content can be made available to those audiences in a cornucopia of ways. This is what the future looks like. Publishers reaching out to audiences with the content in formats or packaged in ways that suit a reader’s needs at a particular moment in time.

The technology hurdle is gone. Digital content can be packaged for computers, tablets, e-readers, mobile phones, TV screens, outdoor boards, radio — there are no limits, just options.

I heard of a few publishers planning to use e-readers to offer (for sale, of course) fragments or bundles of their content for these screens. A great idea: single articles, more in-depth coverage than made sense in other formats, or all the coverage for the past year on a single topic.

The Harvard Business Review has been selling single articles for years.

I remember thinking (only a few years ago) how odd it was that iTunes would sell individual songs for a dollar. Who would buy a song, I thought? We buy albums.

But Apple understood that people wanted to build their own playlists. At a dollar a song, it was/is more expensive than the same number of songs on an album!

Single songs for a music library is the same as Twitter feeds for news; Twitter allows people to build their “read list.”

The landscape is changing, some information is free, and some must be paid for. As a number of newspapers introduce paid subscriptions, others are launching free Web sites, mostly for commoditised content.

A number of hyperlocal print titles introduce a Web site that brings the information across the region together for their readers. And some large newspaper groups have two-tiered Web sites: a hub or umbrella site that offers links to the Web site for the local market newspaper(s).

Updated reporting is evolving into live-blogging and tweeting for certain events. But not everyone wants to follow the details 24/7, so periodic summaries are introduced.

It is the content used and purposed for specific audiences under a variety of circumstances that will change our notion of media monikers. Tablets, e-readers, and smartphones are all about screen size and software. The nature of the content is being designed for the screen; updates on small screens, apps, and full Web access on tablets.

There will always be an important role for curated content; it will be what defines the media organisation. What is available beyond that will make one plus one equal three.

Everyone covered the Olympics, but every media organisation (or partnership) catered coverage to their audiences and screens — that’s how brands stand out with commoditised news.

It is time to stop defining and measuring media by outdated media monikers; we need to understand consumer behaviour and how content is used. Our audiences have moved on, they come to content because it engages them; they no longer care how it is delivered or what it is called.