Let’s take newspapers. It the glory years, newspapers were fat with page count and large staffs that could bring readers all types of news --- national, international, local, sports, lifestyle, entertainment, health --- and list went on and on. Of course, in those pre-internet glory days, the competition consisted of other legacy media outlets operating in, more or less, the same way.
We all know that things have changed and had a devastating impact on legacy media. (The latest big story --- Time Inc., the once-former publishing powerhouse, has been spun off into a stand-alone company that some analysts are questioning can survive long term.)
Meanwhile, there are dozens of excellent digital publications staffed by seasoned journalists that, from all indications, are doing extremely well. In my view, Politico has surpassed the Washington Post as the politics must read inside the Beltway. Vox is showing legacy companies why explanatory journalism is the future, Fivethirtyeight.com’s data brilliance is pioneering is changing how journalists look at data sets. River Avenue Blues combines insights, sarcasm, and excellent reporting and is now the must read in a competitive New York media marketplace. These are just four example of hundreds of sources that have found the Holy Grail --- they are relentlessly focused on one topic area, reporting the hell of it, and gaining readers and fans by the boatload.
So what can legacy media learn from this? First, admit no newspaper, TV or radio newscast can be all things to all people. Those days are long over. Think about how people consume news nowadays. Looking for sports, entertainment or health information? There’s SI.com, TMZ and WebMd, and hundreds more specialty sites where those came from.
Each legacy media company needs to really understand what its community hungers for, and use its full-time staff to exclusively focus on those limited topics. And, knowing what the community wants goes far beyond marketing surveys that are by in large still given by phone. Guess what? One in three Americans don’t even have landlines, and not everyone that has one even uses it. How can such a survey even approximate a reliable result with actionable information?
No, legacy companies need to go beyond those calls and employ a number of different methods to really understand what their communities want them to be. Focus groups, social media-based surveys, online metrics analytics are all parts of the survey landscape. When they really know that, they can begin the process a building a business that has a chance to succeed. It’s clear, from the continued drop in audience and profits, that the constant cutting and tweaks isn’t working.