Stephen Foley: Buried in a local paper: a glimpse of the future of journalism


US Outlook: There was a new byline on the business pages of the Daily Tribune in Michigan last Sunday. It was a little byline on a humdrum story ("Maytag recalling 1.7 million dishwashers"), buried deep inside a small local paper from the rust belt of the US. But it looked to me like a vision of the future of newspapers.

The story about dishwashers was by Mitch Lipka, a journalist for the business website DailyFinance.com, owned by AOL, where it had appeared earlier in the week. Its journey from the web to the inky hands of the Tribune's readers went via a "news exchange" set up by a tech company called Publish2. AOL put its free content up on the exchange, the business editors of the Tribune came in search of material that might interest their readers, and bingo.

Is this kind of exchange the key to reshaping the newspaper industry and putting it on a sounder footing? I think so. We are operating now in a world where the very best specialist coverage on any topic is available at the click of a mouse. Serious news consumers in the US, looking for serious information on serious topics, might flit between Politico for the goings-on on Capitol Hill and The Wall Street Journal for financial news and ESPN for sport. Print newspapers and their associated websites that try to be all things to all men could start to look as anachronistic as the Yahoo homepage.

Something big has to give. Surveying the landscape this week, the credit rating agency Moody's declared that the outlook for US newspaper company debt was stable this year, but it wasn't so sure that it could last. Advertising revenues will be down "only" 5-10 per cent this year, thanks to strong economic growth, but are likely to deteriorate faster in 2011.

The most common approach to newspaper management here appears to be the "trim and hope" approach, matching advertising and circulation declines with newsroom lay-offs and keeping one's fingers crossed that things will stabilise. News exchanges could enable a much more radical approach, a "focus and grow" approach.

The best local papers already focus their resources on the things that only they can do, community reporting and vital local investigations. For the rest, they take Associated Press content for many of their national and international stories and features (but they grumble about the fees charged by the AP, which is why Publish2 is setting itself up as a rival where they can find cheaper or free content).

News exchanges could provide a dramatic new way for the bigger, regional dailies to cut costs and redirect resources at exclusive content. This cadre of publication includes storied names such as the Chicago Tribune or the LA Times, who currently pride themselves on their "full-service" offerings for readers. They may have scaled back foreign bureaus in the face of the reality of declining revenues, but a truly radical vision of the future would see them also cut a lot of their other specialist coverage and replace it with content sourced from outside the newsroom. How many newspapers need a deep bench of technology writers, if content from TechCrunch and other tech bloggers or freelancers might be available for repackaging at much lower cost?

Content sharing agreements are emerging across the US on an ad hoc basis, but I like the model of a "news exchange" for a couple of reasons. First is the obvious benefit to the content providers. By hawking their wares to one and all via Publish2, TechCrunch, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund, AOL's DailyFinance et al save the hassle of negotiating myriad distribution deals. I also think that an exchange might reveal some home truths that might otherwise take a long time to dawn, most notably that there are simply too many journalists writing slightly different versions of the same few stories. An exchange model will reveal what is truly valuable in journalism: educated writing, exclusive investigations, and stories that have a deep appeal to a distinct community – and set a price for it.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Retirement Coordinator - Financial Services

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To provide a prompt, friendly and efficient se...

Recruitment Genius: Annuities / Pensions Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will be the first point of contact for all...

Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Officer - Altrincham - up to £24,000.

£18000 - £24000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: HR, Payroll & Benefits Of...

Ashdown Group: Learning and Development Programme Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss