Saving the Newspaper in a Digital World

Former Sky News team member Xan Phillips knows all about newspapers, having written his own new music column for the Southern Daily Echo from 2007 to 2012. Here's his ideas for revitalising the challenged newspaper industry.

Until recently I had forgotten how much fun it was getting a newspaper delivered to your front door.

My passion for it was re-kindled during a weekend at my parents who are still in the habit of having a daily paper.

Finding the newspaper on the doormat not only felt luxurious, but made me think about the newspaper's future and how deliveries, along with papers themselves, might soon be a thing of the past.

So I started wondering where I would make changes and below are some of my thoughts.

Feel the Quality

You can't deny that holding a newspaper feels really good and when given one, I can quite happily bury my head in it and be engulfed by its editorial world.

One area for targeting should be the feel of the newspaper. Makers of high quality smartphones and tablets spend a large proportion of time on the feel of their product, they have grasped the perception it gives. Newspapers should take the same attitude. The quality of paper has to become an important part of the sales pitch for new readers.

I noticed this first hand when the Southern Daily Echo's monthly Business Magazine changed its paper to one that was brighter and felt smoother. This simple change made the paper feel a much higher quality.

Does News Have to be Now?

Where newspapers are losing ground is the immediacy of news and this issue caused my parents to drop their second paper. Yup, they were a two paper household but found that the news on the doormat wasn't much different to the previous night's headlines. This is one aspect papers have to overcome.

Not only are they battling with instant internet reporting and the main evening news on television, but their front pages and headlines are discussed in depth on late night news programmes. Add to this hourly updates on the radio and 24 hour TV news, and the papers seem increasingly out of date in the morning.

Newspapers need to rely less on breaking news and think about how analysis and more in-depth, original thought could be a stronger strategy.

In the past they could always hold their own against TV and radio, but in the age of instant news delivered across the Internet the type of article they should be aiming for is the one that studio pundits will recommend people read as it is too in depth to fully discuss.

They need to find writers who can look back at a story and assess its impact and future ramifications. News has become so much about 'now' and supplying the instant answer that there is room for the "sit back and think" approach. In many respects a newspaper is read by people who have the time to sit back and read.

The reward for the writers is not just payments, but also appearing in print.

Having Pride in Print.

This past decade has seen an explosion in writing and it is all down to the Internet and blogging.

This instant access has given many people the opportunity to have their words read and voice heard.

The newspapers were once the gatekeepers of thought - they are now part of the mix. But consider this: it is very easy to blog, but very difficult to appear in print.

This is another ace that newspapers hold - while the internet may offer a wealth of tepid content, newspapers offer carefully chosen and professionally written content.

One of my proudest was writing a new music column for the Southern Daily Echo. It was a marketing company's idea to get some extra publicity for my radio show and coming from a family of journalists I leapt at this privilege.

This pride about being in print was also expressed by the musicians I featured. They were delighted to be in the paper, it really meant a lot. Funnily enough they didn't buy the paper on a regular basis, if at all, but were very keen to be seen on paper.

Paper still has that hold, that perception of being a powerful force, but as you can see and probably know, young people are falling out of the habit of reading a newspaper. How can they be won back?

Come Back to Paper - Unlock the Power of the Internet

It is a generational thing - as we all know, those with the newspaper habit are in an older age bracket and don't mind paying. The free paper model is possibly the answer but how is the production financed?

Advertisers love print but find the Internet has many benefits and the main one the ability to track people and see how they convert into customers. At the moment it hard for a newspapers to provide a similar service.

There are two way in which they can use the Internet to their advantage.

The first is to invite popular bloggers to write original material. In its new drive to improve search results Google is currently demanding websites provide original content of high quality. Newspapers should be doing the same.

To bring youth back to newspapers they will have to write about the subjects that concern them. Enhance their energy. Put into the newspaper the stories that will make them share the paper, pass it around and hold it up as a reason for action.

Find the bloggers who touch those nerves and have a winning formula. That 'pride in print' is deep within all writers and very hard to resist. They have their followers online and if original content appears in print it will attract new readers. The other aspect newspapers can enhance is linking the paper content to their website.

It probably seems crazy to go to all that trouble of providing original content, possibly in a free newspaper, only to have it available online, but this is the trade off:

Each item in the paper is given its own code, this code brings up the article in an app or area that people have to login to. Make it free with all the other benefits you'd expect such as adding comments.

But this code makes it easy for people to find their story and add their comments. Now it is true that people can pass that code around, or just login and read the article, however the code is the key as it links the story to the people which is valuable information.

Once any of these potential customers have signed up a special relationship can be built between them, the newspaper and the advertisers - a relationship that goes beyond current practices and into a new era of customer and data management, which will be explained in a subsequent blog.