Monday, November 22, 2010

Newsweek-Daily Beast and YourCommunity Paper-YourCommunity Website

In my November 3, 2010 post I agreed with Larry Kramer, founder and former CEO of CBS, that a possible merger of Newsweek and The Daily Beast made sense. I disagreed with Mr Kramer's belief that print was a transitional product.

Eight days later, Newsweek and The Daily Beast announced their merger. The New York Observer broke the news, and the  Daily Beast announced the merger, followed closely by a Media Blogger post in the New York Times.

The blogosphere is actively discussing Tina Brown, a Daily Beast founding partner and to-be editor-in-chief of the two publications (e.g. Felix Salmon, Jeff Bercovici, Jack Shafer, John Hudson). It is also debating the strategy (e.g. Mark Coatney, Nicholas Carlson). To me, this merger, whether it is successful or not and whether Ms. Brown is successful or not, is a sidebar to the feature story.

This merger validates that media companies of the future will be those who serve both the reader seeking answers and the reader seeking serendipity. New York Times columnist David Brooks shares my point of view in his November, 18 column.

My recent columns have spoken about the opportunity to serve people when they are open to discovery, not on-task. Brooks speaks about the opportunity to offer "counter-programs against the ceaseless ephemera of much of the online world and offers things you will remember, a magazine that doesn’t endlessly chase buzz, that isn’t coastal urban journalists writing ceaselessly for each other, that doesn’t aim for insider-is horse race gossip when covering politics, that doesn’t chase the same upscale liberal audience that every other media outlet is chasing."

Brooks reflects on a past generation when "poor families scratched together their dollars to buy an encyclopedia, to join the Book of the Month Club, to buy Will and Ariel Durant’s 'Civilization' series or the Robert Maynard Hutchins’s Great Books." Brooks says that those families believed that through reading publications such as those just mentioned and magazines, such as Harper's Saturday Review, Time and Newsweek, they could "gain access to a higher realm they might someday join."

He posits that it was a society with a shortsighted mindset that led us to our recent economic bubble burst and that this society is now ready to return to a more serious mindset that thinks long term and adopts fundamentals such as: All people should study and know and be familiar with the best that has been thought and said. Consume what you can afford, not what you desire. Put less emphasis on the pursuit of self esteem, the belief that "you are wonderful the way you are." And no longer consider aspiring to a common culture to be boring and not all that hip.

Newsweek-The Daily Beast and others, such as in Print, are using two distinct mediums to serve both the short term and long term mindsets of a national audience. Community news organizations can focus their efforts to do the same.

One of my companies is experimenting with ways to give its print product distinction by serving the long term mindset. It is enrolling community members who are passionate about the deeper meanings of life to provide nonfiction and fiction based on their avocations and experiences. Such stories are not time-sensitive, not answers to immediate questions, and appear in print first, available online to paper subscribers and to online-only subscribers after print publication. These stories respond to the local community's readiness, as Brooks says, to engage with publications "that transmit the country’s cultural inheritance and its shared way of life, that separates for busy people the things that are enduring from the things that aren’t."

This experiment has been well-received -- people like the variety of columns and opinions and opportunity to know their neighbors in ways not apparent on the streets and in community gatherings. And it is also generating a devoted and growing set of readers who opt to not to purchase the printed product but are willing to pay for online access to this content that goes beyond timely who, what and where.

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