Black, White and Read All Over
Ah, the morning paper. Together with coffee it is a drug completed – like chocolate chip cookies and milk. Yet there seems to be a drastic struggle occurring amongst major news outlets in terms of their brands. Local and regional papers are closing up shop around the US, and traditional news on paper outfits are struggling to figure out how to recoup advertising losses and somehow cash in on the digital wave.
You can see traditional media thrashing about in vague consternation about bloggers, the free-loaders and copyright bandits on the web, and the downfall of "true" "journalism." And others in the digital realm bemoan the adorable antiquity of killing trees for newsprint. I see two major issues in terms of how news organizations are approaching their brands currently. First is the content, also known as the journalism. Second is the way that content is delivered. Both of these things are effected by the digital versus print battle. And both influence the brand heavily.
There's a saying that content is king. And that was certainly true in a world where everyone is delivering a similarly packaged product (read newspapers). This is how places like the New York Times, built their brand. Additionally it's what allowed more localized publications to be successful. After all, the New York Times couldn't very easily cover smaller, mid-tiered American cities. Brand was built on timeliness, quality and accuracy. However speed was a differentiator for certain organizations as well. Digital has made speed obsolete in terms of the printed news. There is obviously no way the morning paper will get stories published faster than they are on the googletubes.
So if the speed of the news is out, things now come down to quality/accuracy, locality and now exclusivity. Some larger institutional news brands like the New York Times can be branded based on quality/accuracy. There is still a level of trust in their news coverage that other organizations simply don't have. Locality is a way for some publications to brand themselves – focusing on local news events and culture. However, this will be very dependant on the angle they take and what market they're targeting. Moving towards a more niche audience helps define the brand and revenue streams.
The other driver of your news/media brand is the way you deliver the content. Is it digital, print, both, smoke signals? A brand can be driven and the content should be driven by where you put the focus of your delivery. You can still create successful brands focusing on print. However, your print publication probably needs to get out of the speed game and into more long-form journalism. News/Media organizations need to understand that focusing on print means focusing on the quality of your tangible object. it needs to have the right weight, texture, color and size to accentuate the brand and the need for purchasing the publication. Monocle is the current prime example of this model. True it already targets a luxury audience, but it's not every day your audience pays more for the subscription than they do at the newsstand as they do for Monocle.
And focusing on print doesn't mean abandoning the interwebs. The internet is a place where you can bolster your print publication. Alternatively you can be an organization like the Times and focus a great deal on the day to day hard core journalism that is served very well by the internet. If it's the best people will pay for that. They can then use the paper as a support for their brand. The Sunday paper is simply an incredible way to round up the already great journalism that has come during the week via the web, along with specialty sections like the magazine and book review, this is a brand that can be very successful in the "new" media age.
As an adjunct to all of this there is also the general brand of "journalism." Blogs and the web have widened the definition of journalism for some and watered it down for others. We have to understand that the Edward Murrow type of journalism we've come to idolize is a brand invention. It was a money maker at the time to actually be "fair and balanced." It is now a money maker to maybe be, shall we say, a little more subjective in reporting. Is this the downfall of journalism? No. Is it finally the liberal media machine crashing down? Oh brother. What it is the proliferation of brands due to new technology and the ability of others to be involved in content delivery. And that is a golden opportunity for us as information seekers and consumers. It's also a golden opportunity for media brands to deliver great content and do well doing it. It comes down to focus and delivering on that focus. Folks will pay if it is worth paying for.