Newspapers Need to Reinvent Themselves as a 2.0 Platform

Make Websites Peer-to-Peer Networks Where Journos, Consumers, Marketers Can Talk

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Michael Kinsley, writing in Time magazine, recently posed the big (and loaded) question: "Do Newspapers Have a Future?" Kinsley notes that papers are embracing blogging but he worries they are doing so at the risk of sacrificing speed over accuracy.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

Don't let Kinsley fool you. Blogging is an important step for newspapers. It has unshackled journalists from the staid, unidirectional delivery of facts to a model where they co-author the news with readers in real time. But let's not lose site of the fact that blogging is the first phase in a gradual evolution. To thrive in the future, the newspaper will need to use the web to turn itself into a 2.0 platform where readers and advertisers working together (not journalists) create most of the value.

At its heart, this is what "Web 2.0" is really about. The sites that are growing the fastest are destinations where individuals connect, collaborate and create something that benefits everyone. The powers-that-be largely stay out of the way, but help the crowd harness its inner power.

And that's the formula that has made Craigslist, Wikipedia and Second Life such draws. Users, not Linden Labs (the company that launched Second Life), created the overwhelming majority of the Second Life virtual world. Name one newspaper that has turned itself over to the populace.

The next logical step for newspapers is to transform their websites into a platform that helps "readers" achieve some broader goal, either on their own or in conjunction with journalists and advertisers. They need to adopt the tools and best practices that have made eBay and YouTube huge success. They must think peer-to-peer.

Co-created journalism is certainly one key vehicle to make this happen, but it's not the only one. If newspapers want to remain relevant, they better up the arsenal of tools they equip their "readers" with. They need to help their visitors sell goods to each other peer-to-peer, launch their own blogs, build mash-ups and connect through both online and offline local social networking and more.

The buds of participation are definitely sprouting at some newspapers. The Washington Post, for example, has an entire section of its site dedicated to helping consumers mash up their content. And the Austin American Statesman gives a blog to anyone who wants one. However, most of these are just experiments and buried deep inside these huge sites. And none of them involve advertisers.

For newspapers to thrive, they need to accelerate big initiatives like these, bring the marketers on board and elevate them so they can be seen. Otherwise, the next time someone asks that loaded question about the medium's future, the answer may be no.

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Steve Rubel is a marketing strategist and blogger. He is senior VP in Edelman's Me2Revolution practice.
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