News Leadership 3.0

July 22, 2008

Defining “niche”

Spokane editors work to define
new place for print newspaper

One topic for last week’s KDMC leadership conference was the increasingly difficult dance of keeping the print newspaper robust and moving aggressively online. One strategy may be to re-define the print newspaper as a “niche” product for a specific audience. Different newsrooms and markets will have different ways of defining this.

Here’s a first run at the definition from Carla Savalli, an editor at The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, who participated in the leadership conference:

A niche newspaper is more narrowly focused than the mass market daily.

It may be smaller in size and news hole, and it may even be less frequent than seven days a week. It very likely will be sold for a premium price, almost certainly more than $1 per day.

But it’s most distinctive characteristic will be its content, which will be targeted to the readers who want it and who will be willing to pay for it. Rather than a range of content, a niche paper will focus on so-called franchise topics that can only be produced locally by a skilled staff of journalists. For example: Municipal and state government; schools and education; watchdog reporting; local sports; arts and entertainment.

The niche newspaper will be edited to be explanatory and analytical. Readers will come to the newspaper to learn not ‘what happened,’ but ‘why it happened.’ Its second-day, in-depth nature will be a complement to the 24/7 nature of the newsroom’s online and mobile operations.

On the business side, a niche newspaper will be but one of several platforms that comprise a media portfolio. More important than method of delivery will be the news organization’s brand. In our case, The Spokesman-Review will increasingly become an news and information company whose brand is considered to be smart, timely, relevant and unflinching local journalism. That journalism will be published across multiple platforms, known and to be developed, rather than on any single flagship publication.

Production will be right-sized for the product. The full-scale production apparatus necessary to produce a mass-market daily newspaper is not necessary for a niche product. Resources across the room, then, will be reapportioned according to the needs of the platform.

The overriding goal is to provide news and information to people whenever and however they want it, recognizing that each platform has unique story-telling characteristics which editors and reporters must learn to customize.

Spokane Editor Steven A. Smith reports on his blog that the discussion of the newspaper as niche is a challenging one for his newsroom, as I suspect it will be in many others. Read more of Smith’s post here.

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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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