Faced with a new online market, newspapers have been compelled to establish their brands there, to fend off competitors and retain subscribers as they turn their attention from the printed page to the Web page.
Facing increased use of mobile phones, dailies feel forced to stretch their brand to that platform as well.
It might seem simplest to run all newspaper content on all digital platforms — desktop monitor, laptop, tablet, mobile phone.
But. I wonder what would happen if dailies followed a carpenter’s rule instead of the “we-must-meet-our-customers-where-they-are” mantra.
My husband, a carpenter in his spare time, used to say that every job is easier with the right tool. What if we delivered content using the medium that suits it best?
For example, the long story with multiple entry points — photos, graphics, sidebars, and nugget boxes — belongs in print. So does the display ad. No matter how big or colorful the ad is, readers will admire it in print and swear at it on the Web.
A mobile phone can best display lists of short items, all dynamically generated from a back-end database: briefs, sports scores, election results, calendar listings and classified ads.
Short stories with photos, as well as video stories, are best suited to a website that is viewed on computer screen or tablet.
Of course, house ads that are designed specifically for each platform can drive traffic to the others.
Get the idea? Okay. Now, imagine a newspaper that has gone through a redesign across all of its platforms and has adopted this differentiated approach.
Its subscribers have access to it in print, via the Web and on their mobile phones, and they know where to find what they’re looking for (because the paper did such a good job educating them).
The daily print edition is small, but it contains long, interesting stories (that subscribers actually take the time to read) and attractive display ads.
Subscribers use their phones to check briefs, scores and calendar listings. They use a tablet or computer to read short stories and view videos on the paper’s website.
The only ads are the display ads in the print edition. But every display advertiser is also included in the community advertiser database available via mobile phone.
Would it work?
As a subscriber, I would be getting the best of everything, using tools I already have at hand.
As a reporter, editor or designer, I would be able to polish each piece of content for the one platform on which it would appear.
And from the lowliest three-sentence brief to the major, three-part series, each bit of content would be the best it could be.
I think I’d like to work there. I’d like to get that paper. What do you think?