Newspapers and local – who owns who?

by Mathew on January 15, 2007 · 2 comments

(cross-posted from my media blog)

Don Dodge has some thoughts about newspapers and local content — like restaurant reviews, movie reviews, etc. — that got their start with a post from Greg Linden of Findory (which Greg said recently is shutting down, or at least going into hibernation) on the same topic. Greg’s post in turn was based on a very perceptive post by Rich Skrenta, CEO of Topix (a local news aggregator), about how newspapers generally suck at making their content available to search engines where they can become part of the “long tail.”

All of this drew some skeptical fire from my friend Rob Hyndman, who said in his post that newspapers shouldn’t own local search. His reasoning (expressed both in his post and in an email discussion with me): newspapers may have local content, but that doesn’t mean they can necessarily compete with other, better sources of content that are faster and more flexible than newspapers are — even assuming that papers can solve their archive and searchability issues.

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Needless to say, I think that newspapers have a slightly better chance than Rob does, but that’s not just because I work for one. I will agree that trying to convince local-content searchers to come to a newspaper site — which Rob also criticizes in his post — doesn’t make a whole heck of a lot of sense. But that doesn’t mean newspapers can’t make use of their content by making it easier for search engines and other aggregation mechanisms to find.

Maybe newspapers can’t compete with other local sources (like Yelp, which Mindy McAdam likes), either because they don’t have compelling enough content or because they don’t know what they are doing technology-wise, or because they are just clueless and handicapped in a variety of ways. But they can certainly do a heck of a lot better than they are now. Pramit Singh has some good suggestions at MediaVidea

  • http://engtech.wordpress.com engtech

    I don’t think anyone can compete with Google for search. So far their local searches haven’t taken off as well as would be hoped, but I think they still do more local search traffic than any independent site could hope.

    I know I routinely use maps.google.com with Find Businesses to find restaurants or stores.

  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    More on this later, as I collect thoughts for another post. But the germ of the idea I’m bouncing around on this begins with the notion that the newspaper’s mode of local communication / content delivery – essentially, the neighbourhood bulletin board – was suitable once upon a time, but only because of the alternatives available then – yellow pages and ads on the local radio and TV stations. It was never a very efficient way to get that content delivered – ads, flat listings and the local expert’s reviews. Blech. My Dad used to clip that stuff out and save the clippings in file folders. Years later, when I was travelling somewhere, a letter would appear a couple of days before witha few useful clippings in it. Nice, but wildly inefficient of course.

    Now that stuff is online. That’s an improvement of course, but just mimicking the same mode of delivery online is baby steps. As to the talk of optimizing the data; yes, if you want to be found, it’s a good idea to be, er, findable. No controversy there. But again, baby steps.

    There are now a gazillion other ways to deliver that content, and many of them seem to me to be profoundly better than broadcast (I write, you read); even adding on to that the bells and whistles that papers are now getting around to adding on. So I just don’t see papers as being efficient or even useful tools for communicating local information like this. News, yes. Opinion, yes. The rest – hmmm, not so much, I suspect. More later :)

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