Online Journalism

Will disco dads save the local newspaper business?

Roger Green is one of the most important men in local online journalism in Britain. As the boss of Newsquest‘s digital division, he’s the head honcho for more than 150 newspaper websites up and down the country. Remarkably, however, Roger isn’t too enamoured with all the fuss about clever-clever technologies and is more than a little fed up with new media partnerships. He also reckons Jeff Jarvis‘s collaborative vision of the future won’t work in the dog-eat-dog world of British local journalism.
In a frank and refreshing presentation, the senior manager for Gannett‘s UK subsidiary hacked away at a few sacred cows before delivering a stark and fairly simple message to the AOP’s micro local forum, yesterday: ‘either work with us or take us on’. Established businesses, like Newsquest, are operating in a very crowded market and have established brands with loyal readerships, Green told his audience. There isn’t much room for new firms to elbow in on the party and, if they do, they can expect Roger and his pals to make life more than a little uncomfortable. Also, if you do work with Roger, don’t expect to get anything for free. He said his audience ‘wouldn’t believe’ the things people have expected from Newsquest in return for little more than goodwill.
But Green didn’t just land a few blows on new entrants, as he took time to warn his fellow newspaper bosses against falling at the feet of every new technology, with increasing levels of desperation and inversely proportionate levels of understanding. He mocked efforts to force sub-editors to geo-tag business stories and told his peers that they risked looking like ‘disco dads’ as a result of their new-media dalliances.
Sadly, the only thing about Green’s speech that wasn’t a breath of fresh air was its core subject matter: Newsquest’s online strategy. After all his tough words, one might have expected Green to reveal that his company had found the answer his audience was looking for: how to make online local journalism pay. Green admitted that he, like many others, would be waiting to see how competitor Johnston Press did with its experiment in charging for local news content. Meanwhile, Newsquest would have to make do with kicking journalists out of the office and using twitter to improve its conversation with the readers. There are no easy answers, it seems. Even engaging with the newspaper’s audience wasn’t a straightforward task, with Green pointing out that it had proved more than a little tricky to appoint community reporters. Perhaps expecting a local newspaper group to start a revolution is asking too much, but one still might hope that an industry in the grips of a crisis, with its readers dying off – as one of Newsquests’ editors spoke of here – would have a more creative approach to its future. And what’s wrong with a few disco dads anyway? Haven’t you got to be prepared to risk making a fool out of yourself to do something interesting?

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