Look, if I truly knew the answer to the question of how to monetize the newspaper mainstream media, I'd be drinking mai tais on the beach of my very own island in the South Pacific. That said, I do know enough to suggest some ways the MSM, at least, can slow the decline in profits.
1. Dump Print.
After staff, newsprint is the biggest cost factor for newspapers. But sure, I read a CNet story not long ago that said only 3 percent of newspaper reading was happening online. So a lot of people are still reading the print edition. How is it, then, that circulation is tanking? (Sure, customer service and delivery problems account for some of that, but not nearly all.)
The people reading papers are getting their information from a wide variety of sites. Some of which are online-only. Some of which, sure, steal from print sites. But if "newspaper" sites made their content available in varying formats that were optimized for reading on a desktop PC, a laptop, an iPhone and a Kindle, among others, that would make the online experience far more palatable.
Let's face it – the core newsprint audience is getting old. You can't rely on that audience to be around forever. And providing new ways for them to get their content is only going to make them happier, too. Mrs. Wizork is getting too stiff in the joints to wander down to the end of her driveway each morning, no matter the weather, to pick up a (possibly soggy) newspaper. It's getting harder for her to read the typeface. What if you gave her a Kindle or other e-book reader that converted the printed word into speech and she instead subscribed to an electronic version delivered to her reader in her nice warm (or cold, maybe she lives in Arizona) house each morning?
Print is dead. Everyone says it is. To hold onto reasons why it's not is to shortchange your readers.
2. Hire Ariana Huffington?
OK, few can afford to hire an independently wealthy Internet entrepreneur. But follow her lead.
Hire people who can write who are experts on what they're blogging about. Heck, some of 'em will do it for the exposure and minimal payment. Don't make your existing staff keep doing all the daily journalism they have to do for the core product and ALSO blog. Make some of them purely digital journalists. Their blogs are their beats. Don't try to do more with less, because you can't. Well, you can, but you can't do it well. You know it. And, more importantly, your readers know it. Use the people you have left in your newsrooms to cover what they cover well. If you simply still must have a print edition, have editors take their blogged content and make it fit whatever format you need for the dead tree edition.
Explore new revenue channels through blogging – find sponsors for blogs. If the blog's about music, get a venue to sponsor. If the blog's about that particular topic...do outreach, engage your community. Create an army of bloggers with the sanctioned trust of a major newspaper.
3. Allow users to design their own home page.
Every other news aggregator has been doing this since what seems like the dawn of the internet. Why can't you customize a newspaper website's layout?
To attract a more hardcore audience, you should use a Custom CRM for max web integration. Expand your reach and allow other newspapers to be imported (pass linkjuice onto them as well and they'll just do the same). Allow third parties such as Yelp to integrate their services. The more customized content you allow your customers to have access to, the more eyeballs will get to see it. Also, make sure your articles are easily shareable and transferable back to you ... and allow people to tweet directly from your site.
Think of your home page like a Google homepage. Let users add RSS feeds to their favorite content around the web and choose their favorite comic strips that you purchase from syndication. Make users able to turn your homepage into their homepage, so they don't have to go anywhere else.
4. Do breaking news. Or do longform. Don't try to do both.
When you try to do longform, you get sidetracked by the breaking news of the day. When you do breaking news, you get sidetracked by trying to figure out what longform pieces you're gonna write about the event. Plus, there's always some hotshot reporter working on a major longform piece you just can't pull her off of, so instead of giving your all to the breaking news of the day, you put who you have on the story, rather than who you need.
Breaking news: Own it. Incorporate Twitter streams into the breaking coverage. Monitor the Tweets and comments and follow up on leads from them. Sure, not every day has a major breaking news story. But if you cover your area well, you'll find far more breaking news than you ever imagined.
Long-form: Do it right. Be the written version of NPR. Delve into your subjects. Cover angles no one else is. Be the site that people go to when they want to know the story behind the story.
You know, do journalism.
5. Stop Interrupting, Start Interacting.
Broadcast media is no longer the accepted form of communication between user and provider. People expect to learn, respond and react to news. You can no longer broadcast something and then ignore its repercussions...the FCC would crucify you for one thing, but more importantly? So would your readers.
Take the example of Colonel Tribune and actually meet, talk and hang out with your audience. Also, take the approach that your story isn't done once it has been published look at it as if it has just begun.
This by no means is a complete list and MSM has a long way to go. What would you suggest?