A New Business For Newspapers

How to save the industry by curing it of its breaking news obsession.


Here’s some breaking news for newspaper publishers: Nobody cares who “breaks” news.

The industry’s obsession with being first to report a story has distracted it for years, while other companies have emerged all around them with more creative ways to serve and monetize information consumers.

With that in mind, I’d like to present a simple way for newspapers to generate new revenue streams, attract new readers, engage their existing audiences, and capitalize on the unique skills, access, and assets they have at their disposal.

Newspapers should get into the education business.

We don’t need to christen the University of The Washington Post any time soon (though that’s an interesting concept to brainstorm), but traditional publishers should embrace the creation of educational products as part of their mission.

These products would be rooted in editorial content, but they could also incorporate video, audio, or other interactive elements. They should provide value and not be advertiser-dependent.

Your educational products should be good enough that you can stop selling your audience and start selling TO your audience.

This is not about slapping up paywalls and subscription sites — those consistently fail because the information you charge for isn’t as valuable as you think it is.

Charging for news doesn’t work because news is now a commodity.

But exclusive (and evergreen) educational information is not a commodity — it’s the kind of thing people willingly pay for online all the time.

Consumers Value Education More Than News

We can debate whether this is a good or bad thing, but the reality is consumers don’t care which publication “breaks” news and every bit of news that’s broken these days appears all over the web in a matter of minutes.

This drastically reduces its value in the eyes of consumers. Yet most journalists and news organizations still think their main job is to break news.

I disagree.

Publishers should place at least as much importance on the concept of educating people as they do breaking news.

Luckily, your journalistic skill set perfectly positions you to become an education juggernaut.

Newspapers are information machines and what truly makes you unique isn’t your ability to break news (which, again, only offers you a minute or two of competitive advantage,) but rather it’s the other things you’re able to do.

You have the ability to educate people about complex matters in a simple way and access to experts in every field whose expertise you can tap to do so.

No business or organization is better positioned or equipped to educate the public than you are if you embrace it as your mission as opposed to being so focused on “news.”

People Will Pay To Learn

One of the biggest challenges for the newspaper industry has been its business model and particularly its economic dependence on advertising.

Creating a suite of educational products will help wean you off your advertising addiction and give you an opportunity to build a more sustainable business model.

And while conventional wisdom says it’s tough to get people to pay for content online, educational materials tend to be the exception to that rule.

People will pay for information that helps them learn new skills, advance their career, or ultimately help them save or make money.

You can provide that kind of information.

For example, imagine a newspaper using its resources and access to the most accomplished minds in various industries to create products that would teach people how to switch careers, how to market their small business, or how to buy their first house?

Imagine a business reporting staff that spent as much time teaching people how to invest in the stock market as they did reporting on that day’s stock fluctuations?

Of course the key is to provide and package these “lessons” in a meaningful way, but I have no doubt there’s an audience willing to pay for them — especially from a trusted source which (theoretically) most newspapers still are.

Newspapers Can Be College For Those That Aren’t In College

Educational products produced by newspapers can also fill some of the void for people who either are looking for an alternative to college or didn’t learn the skills they needed in college.

Learning doesn’t have to stop when you graduate from college and it also isn’t have the only time in people’s lives when they’re willing to pay to be educated.

As I’ve recently discovered through my A Person You Should Know project, people are hungry to learn from experts.

There is a rapidly growing segment of the population that’s abandoning traditional learning methods and there are opportunities there to be had.

A robust offering of educational products created and curated by newspapers could likely find a strong niche among a wide variety of consumers who want to learn things, can afford to pay something for that privilege, but don’t want to do that in college.

An Alternative To Advertising And An Opportunity For Advertisers

As much as I see this as a valuable alternative to the advertising revenue model, I also believe newspaper-driven educational products could create new opportunities for advertisers as well.

Just like people are willing to pay to learn things, advertisers love to pay to reach people who want to learn things.

Depending how these educational products are constructed, they could easily incorporate sponsor opportunities that go beyond the blurry lines and love-hate relationship that newspapers currently have with native advertising.

Adding educational products to a publisher’s arsenal in addition to its news product will also create other interesting ways for brands and companies to get involved.

For example, an educational product based on how to be a better parent might be something a company or brand would want to pay for to “gift” to its employees or customers.

I have no doubt as new products were developed, new opportunities would emerge for monetization that go way beyond the customer-purchases-product model.

The journalism industry has no shortage of challenges at the moment and I certainly don’t have all the answers for them.

But exploring educational products seems like it would be a great place to start.


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