"The deer have guns." That's one of the messages I took away from a recent web conference in San Francisco on the future of the newspaper business. It's a catchy way of saying that the old media model is experiencing enormous change — and not just the dead-tree newspaper model.
Newspapers have long made their money by selling ads — online and in print — to businesses wanting to reach those who were reading the paper. Newspapers had world, national, and local news, feature stories, weather, entertainment news, sports — all of which have now been redefined as "content" in the Internet era.
But now the deer have guns or, in other words, everybody is a publisher; everybody creates content, whether via websites, blogs, Facebook, Tumblr, or YouTube. If 5 million people are looking at a cute video of a porcupine eating an ear of corn on YouTube (check it out), that's at least 4.9 million more people than will look at this column in print and online. So that porcupine video is a good place for advertisers to buy an ad, right?
Not so fast. We heard a story at the conference from an executive who got a pitch from a New York Post ad salesman. The Post, the salesman argued, had twice as many readers as the Times. "That's true," said the executive, "but the Times readers are our customers. Your readers are our shop-lifters."
Not all content, in other words, is equally valuable. Advertisers still have to figure out where their customers are, and we in the media have to figure out where our content "edge" is. What do we do better than everyone else?
Here's another quote: "The web favors things that are narrowly comprehensive. That is, everything about something. Newspapers, by contrast, try to feature something about everything."
That model is going to die. If you're like me, you flip past almost all the national and world news in your daily paper, because you've read it the day before online. What local newspapers are going to become is ... local. Period. There may be a lagniappe roundup of big stories, but the focus is going to be on creating what local papers can create best: local "content."
If the deer have guns, we have to be in the ammo business. And our ammo is us.