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March 26, 2009, 12:44 a.m.

Revenue 2.0: Practical solutions

As almost everyone is well aware by now, there’s been a never-ending roll call of doom in the newspaper business for some time — papers closing, companies filing for bankruptcy, massive layoffs and so on. Some have chosen to deal with this by clinging to the old “accentuate the positive” approach, but the most optimistic signs by far have been the journalists who are forging ahead (such as the InDenverTimes, an online startup staffed by laid-off Rocky Mountain News reporters and editors) and trying to come up with concrete solutions, instead of moaning about how much better everything would be if we could only convince people to pay 50 cents every time they read a story on a newspaper’s website.

One of the most recent efforts at developing practical solutions was the Revenue 2.0 project, which came together for a brainstorming session last weekend in Washington, D.C. aimed at revenue-generating ideas that newspapers of all kinds could implement right now. The project started with a manifesto, in which the group declared that “unlike recent confabs of executives, editors and academics, we are hands-on professionals charged with delivering media solutions every day” and added:

We reject the belief that media companies should pursue models based on pay-for-content plans or philanthropy. The latest report from Pew concurs. Instead, we believe the best hope for media companies to make money is the old-fashioned way — by earning it from advertising.

The group was brought together by Alan Jacobson of Brass Tacks Design and Matt Mansfield of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a former deputy managing editor of the San Jose Mercury News. They set out four practical goals:

  • Build an effective advertising model for news content delivered on smart phones, such as Apple’s iPhone;
  • Create a better CraigsList;
  • Show newspaper-centric companies how they can better meet the advertising needs of small- and medium-sized businesses and
  • Re-imagine the homepage and display advertising.

The group included journalists such as Vernon Loeb from The Philadelphia Inquirer, Chrys Wu from Washington Post Digital, Patrick Cooper from USA Today and Chris Courtney from Tribune Interactive. The key — using a phrase coined by Matt Waite of Politifact — was “demos, not memos.” Those demos and screenshots are all available at the Revenue 2.0 site, and while they are not perfect, they are definitely a step in the right direction. It might be hubris to think that newspapers can turn their classifieds into Craigslist-killers given the size of that company’s hold on the market, but they can certainly put up a better fight. The reality is that no one has really tried to improve the way they function on a newspaper website. Revenue 2.0 has some ideas that are definitely worth exploring, such as better search.

The same goes for the project’s recommendations about appealing to small business, and to remaking home pages: practical suggestions that are not complicated to implement, and could have an effect right now. Most of all, the group — which is primarily made up of journalists, not advertising or marketing people — advocated that more publishers have to start thinking of advertising as content, instead of as an after-thought that gets dumped wherever it fits. Only then can newspapers start to improve the kinds of pathetic CPM rates they are getting.

Will all of these suggestions work? Likely not. But if they get some newspapers thinking about practical changes they can make, instead of grieving over the good old days, then they will have achieved something worthwhile.

POSTED     March 26, 2009, 12:44 a.m.
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