Newspapers need to capitalize on scarcity

Scarcity will drive the news orga­ni­za­tions of the future and help them dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves from all the com­pe­ti­tion, says Nic Brisbourne, a part­ner at a European ven­ture cap­i­tal firm in a post on paidContent.org.

Newspapers, he says, have spent the last few decades enjoy­ing a vir­tual monop­oly on infor­ma­tion and adver­tis­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion, but that monop­oly has been dev­as­tated by the Internet, which has deval­ued almost every­thing that the busi­ness of news­pa­pers counts on.

So how do you bring value back to news? Brisbourne sug­gests swim­ming against the tide of indus­try big-wigs that’s try­ing to find a way to charge for news con­tent online. The real answer, he says, is to lis­ten to Chris Anderson, the edi­tor of Wired mag­a­zine and author of Free: The future of a rad­i­cal price. (I haven’t read the book yet. I’ve only lis­tened to a few chap­ters on audio­book, but I really mean to read it soon.)

Abundance also cre­ates scarci­ties, Brisbourne says. Newspapers need to look care­fully at those scarci­ties and find out what they can, ahem, lever­age so that they’ll make some money.

The scarci­ties cre­ated (and enabled) by abun­dant news are inter­est­ing sto­ries, thought pro­vok­ing analy­sis, con­ver­sa­tion and com­mu­nity, and trust/verification.

Interesting sto­ries go beyond sim­ple report­ing of what has occurred, bring­ing in rel­e­vant con­text and stay­ing with a topic as it unfolds. Thought pro­vok­ing analy­sis will dare to shock, and to be wrong. Conversation and com­mu­nity will both make the expe­ri­ence richer for the active par­tic­i­pant and improve the qual­ity of the con­tent on the site for more casual reader. Trust and ver­i­fi­ca­tion will make you go back to one site rather than another as you know the sto­ries there will be more accu­rate (note break­ing news should be pub­lished first and ver­i­fied sec­ond, with appro­pri­ate caveats).

In other words, Brisbourne is play­ing off Jeff Jarvis’s advice: “Cover what you do best. Link to the rest.” That is to say, you’re not going to make money off the things every­one is doing, like cov­er­age of major news events, e.g. death of Ted Kennedy, the Minnesota bridge col­lapse. That sort of news is every­where, and odds are, some­one else is doing it much bet­ter than you are.

No, you’re going to make money off the things that you do par­tic­u­larly well. For most news­pa­pers, that’s going to be deep local cov­er­age, the kind you can­not find on CNN or the Huffington Post.

It’s good advice. After all, few peo­ple visit their local newspaper’s Web site for the AP head­lines. They visit the site for the local news and sports, the stuff they can’t get any­where else. Find a way to make money there and you’ve got something.