Monday, March 24, 2008

The American Newspaper Can Conquer the Internet

Arthur Miller once described a good newspaper as “a nation talking to itself.” If only in this respect, the Huffington Post is a great newspaper. It is not unusual for a short blog post to inspire a thousand posts from readers—posts that go off in their own directions and lead to arguments and conversations unrelated to the topic that inspired them. Occasionally, these comments present original perspectives and arguments, but many resemble the graffiti on a bathroom wall.

The notion that the Huffington Post is somehow going to compete with, much less displace, the best traditional newspapers is arguable on other grounds as well. The site’s original-reporting resources are minuscule. The site has no regular sports or book coverage, and its entertainment section is a trashy grab bag of unverified Internet gossip. And, while the Huffington Post has successfully positioned itself as the place where progressive politicians and Hollywood liberal luminaries post their anti-Bush Administration sentiments, many of the original blog posts that it publishes do not merit the effort of even a mouse click.

~ Out of Print: The death and life of the American newspaper, by Eric Alterman

As I have said before, the future of the American newspaper is on the Internet.
The Internet will not exterminate the newspaper, because most of what is posted on the Internet are often lifted from the newspaper.
The worst thing that can happen to the newspaper would be the transition from print to digital. But a newspaper will always be a newspaper, no matter the media of communication.
News will always be news no matter how you report it, online or offline.
Just report it to the target audience.

In Nigeria, where over 76 million of the population are non-literates, and over 100 million are Internet-illiterates, the daily newspapers, television and radio dictate the news and not the Internet. The frequent power outages have made most of them to rely on the daily newspapers for news and information. The most popular Nigerian website is not even a news website, but a free for all online forum where about a million people visit weekly to gossip and rant over incidents, events and other interesting issues in Nigeria and other parts of the global village. The website only depends on Google AdSense for revenue. Millions of literate Nigerians read newspapers daily. Millions of homes in Nigeria cannot watch the TV, because of frequent power outages and the nearest source of news and information are the daily newspapers. The Nigerian press dictates the news in Nigeria and most of the advertisers prefer the newspapers, magazines, radio and television to the Internet. So, the Internet is not yet a threat to the print media in Nigeria.

The Huffington Post actually helps many of the traditional newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times by linking to their news reports.

What I do on my website and blog is to preview the latest print edition of the Newsweek and prompt readers to buy the copies.

The Cosmopolitan, Vogue and other trendy magazines are still selling in millions and the Internet can never replace the perfumed copes of the Cosmopolitan or Vogue. Being seen with the latest copy of Vogue is a social status symbol and I have seen where visitors rushed to grab the only copy of Vogue on the table at the reception of an office in Lagos, Nigeria.

The New York Times, Washington Post and other popular American newspapers can actually sell millions of copies daily in English speaking African countries by printing in these anglophone countries where most Africans still read daily newspapers, because power outages interrupt the regular TV news report. They read the newspapers first before turning on the TV to confirm whatever they have read in print.

The New York Times can actually sell over two million copies daily in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya combined, because Africans believe that American newspapers are the best reporters of facts and accurate details of news. They would rather accept what an American journalist has reported than what a local African journalist reported. A book review of an African writer in the New York Times is a big deal in Africa. Many local newspapers will link to it and even boast about it. A New York Times book review of an African novel is like an endorsement by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. In fact, if the New York Times makes an ordinary reference to Robert Mugabe, millions of Zimbabweans will be anxious and curious to read it.

American newspapers should not be afraid of the Internet, but to capture it and use it to increase the mileage and patronage of their newspapers.

Rupert Murdoch should tempt the Huffington Post with $1 billion and see if Arianna and company can resist his billion dollar temptation.

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