Multi-platform thinking: Focus on users

It’s been three years since I first heard Ulrik Haagerup speak. He helped transform a regional newspaper to a multi-platform business, or media house as he called it. If US newspapers want a model for a multi-platform business, they have a good model in Denmark. He helped transform Nordjyske from a sleepy regional newspaper to a local 24-hour television channel, a radio station, a website and a premium SMS business. How do they juggle the demands of these multiple platforms? They focus on the exclusive strength of each platform and what service it provides to users. From his address to the AOP in London in 2006.

They now have a multimedia newsroom. They don’t have newspaper reporters or radio reporters. They have reporters. They create story for all media, but not all stories are created for all media. He broke it down this way as media and their strengths:

  • TV- feelings
  • Radio- here and now
  • Web- searchable and depth
  • Mobile- everywhere
  • Traffic paper- find time
  • Weekly- to everyone
  • Daily- stops time

I heard Ulrik Haagerup speak at an IFRA event the year before, and he broke down how they would cover a breaking news story. The focus was on the platform closest to the user. If a large lorry (truck) crash, closed a major roadway, they would send a breaking news alert to their premium SMS subscribers while they provided a breaking news alert on the web, TV and radio networks as they scrambled a team to the scene. They provided live video and post a story on the website as soon as possible. The focus was on the user, not the platform.

Why do I recap this story? The Philadelphia Inquirer started quite a furore yesterday after a memo saying that they were going ‘print first’ for their investigations and enterprise stories. Managing Editor Mike Leary:

Beginning today, we are adopting an Inquirer first policy for our signature investigative reporting, enterprise, trend stories, news features, and reviews of all sorts. What that means is that we won’t post those stories online until they’re in print.

‘Print first’? Is this a retro-grade step? Steve Outing called on the industry: Don’t go backward, newspapers!

What’s long held back the newspaper industry and gotten it in the current mess has been holding back online innovation that might impact the legacy product (print). The kind of serious innovation that might have avoided the turmoil we’re now seeing among newspapers (especially larger metros like the Inquirer) could only take place with an attitude of “Let’s completely forget about the print edition and just try to build the best damn online service possible.”

Steve quoted Jeff Jarvis who said on Twitter:

Insanely, suicidally stupid. If we keep out the gas stations, we’ll force them to ride horses, damnit.

Jeff expanded on his Tweet with a post: A stake through the heart of the has-been Inquirer. Steve Yelvington doesn’t think that holding exclusive stories is the problem, but he takes issue with the ‘us versus them’ tone of the memo. This isn’t multi-platform thinking. As Steve says:

Our job is to serve the public, not advance one medium and oppose another.

A publication plan for “signature investigative reporting” should be one that’s designed to bring the largest possible group of people into the strongest possible engagement with that piece.

But even more than that, the memo drew the print newsroom into opposition to the website. Steve added: “In his memo, Leary wrote: ‘We’ll cooperate with, as we do now ….’ Well, gee. That’s so nice of you. Us and them, the great divide.” That is a retro-grade step. There are no print reporters, radio reporters or online reporters in a multi-platform world. As Ulrik says, we’re reporters. Period.

Howard Owens doesn’t think that it’s necessarily a bad idea. Online news still hasn’t developed a business model that will sustain current newsroom operations.

Even while penetration/circulation declines have been beguiling to the industry, they didn’t begin with the internet. There is something larger, sociological, or potentially a problem with journalism itself (as I’ve said before), that’s going on.

It might be foolish indeed to expect online to save American journalism, given those trends. So why insist now that a metro newspaper must, must put its entire edition online?

I agree with Howard that we shouldn’t shovel content from one platform to another, and it’s right to understand the economics of the platforms. I think a successful multi-platform strategy will focus not only the economics of the platforms but user needs. Meet the needs of users by leveraging the unique strengths of multiple platforms and one can start to see the basis of a successful information business. The Inquirer move, especially when read in full, retreats in areas of key strengths for online and looks like a defensive strategy. The memo continues:

But we’ll make the decision to press the button on the online packages only when readers are able to pick up The Inquirer on their doorstep or on the newsstand. … For our bloggers, especially, this may require a bit of an adjustment. Some of you like to try out ideas that end up as subjects of stories or columns in print first. If in doubt, consult your editor. Or me or Chris Krewson.

In that light, the button has printed on it ‘Self-destruct’.