Once upon a time, before the internet took off, people would tend to stick with just one newspaper which they felt best represented their views. Buying six or seven newspapers would be too impractical (travelling by tube barely allows for reading one without poking fellow commuters in the eye with it). That way, newspapers built up a loyal readership who bought into the brand and its values.
But now that the internet has opened the media up to competition in the form of blogs, forums and other news platforms, readers have so much choice in where to get their news. They can pick and choose from articles from all the newspapers without having to commit to one. It has become more about reading articles or particular sections rather than a newspaper as a whole. The Telegraph’s Shane Richmond said that when people bought the newspaper, it didn’t matter if they read one article or all of them because they’d already paid for it. But on the web, just reading one article means big problems for newspapers.
For Richmond, the future of the web could mean more fragmentation. So how can newspapers retain their readers? The key is to try even harder to cement brand loyalty. Patience Wheatcroft, former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, noted that “Increasingly important in the multichannel world is the brand. People have to know who to trust. Old established brands equal strong relationships and that is what it is all about.”
Brands are the edge which newspapers have over citizen journalists, bloggers etc, but it is becoming increasingly hard to maintain. After all, when people can pick and choose from a plethora of news outlets, why just stick to one? Of course getting news from different sources can only be a good thing, offering as it does a range of views so you can make a more informed decision. But even though people like to diversify their news intake, there is usually one media platform they tend to trust over others, and the trick for newspapers is be that platform. One way of doing this is to not just be a provider of news, but of community as well.
That is the thinking behind My Telegraph, which is, as Richmond says, “an experiment in brand loyalty.” My Telegraph gives Telegraph readers an online space to share their views with fellow users, and helps establish an online community.
As I’ve said, in this age of fragmentation, brand loyalty is what gives newspapers an edge over citizen journalists and less-established news outlets. Rupert Murdoch’s take on it is that “Readers want what they’ve always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.”
To compete today, you can’t offer the old one-size-fits-all approach to news. The challenge is to use a newspaper’s brand while allowing readers to personalise the news for themselves and then deliver it in the ways that they want.”
In other words, a newspaper shouldn’t try to be all things to all people. That can never work because you can’t please everyone, and in the end, you will probably disappoint the loyal followers by trying to change its identity. The key, it seems to me, is to stick to your brand and then cultivate it by allowing readers to make it their own. That way, you’re not just offering news but a place to discuss it with other readers as well as the opportunity to truly personalise it by hosting your blog there. Above all, it’s about being a dependable source which readers can rely on, and in this fragmented market, a little stability in this sometimes disorientatingly dispersed web is a precious commodity.
Image from Edumetrics.org