Friday, November 20, 2009

The newspaper as a social network

Sometimes, we get all wrapped up in old words applied to new things and we overlook the real meaning of those words and how they might apply to other things as well.

Social network is a good example. We have come to believe that this means largely a page on Facebook with a bunch of fans and when taken together, this is thought to be a social network.

There are others, of course. For most people, the neighbors who live on either side of them make up a social network. So, too, we each have social networks of people whom we know in different contexts.

A social network, I would argue, is also the entire relationship between a newspaper and the market it serves. We all play a role in that network whether we own a newspaper or not. The core idea is that the newspaper reports on the community and keeps it informed about itself and all of the people who live there. Any one of us could wind up in tomorrow's newspaper as a result of happenstance, planning, position, etc.

Ideally, the newspaper tells us enough our social network to keep us well posted on everything important and interesting. Of course, most newspapers fall far short of satisfying that test.

But my point is that newspapers confront a huge opportunity to expand their historic roles as social network organizers for their geographic communities and make the it the best, the most valuable, the most comprehensive in that place. It's not a question of forsaking journalism for volunteer writers of questionable content. Rather, it's a matter of deploying more tools to reinforce the core life of the newspaper and the market it serves.

If newspapers would only think hard about what they are supposed to do, and how far short of that they now fall, and then how much closer they could get by combining all of their strengths and capabilities by interconnecting more dynamically readers, advertisers and quality information of all kinds.

I don't know of a single newspaper so far that has done this. It seems to me that's its inevitable if newspapers are to survive. The time it takes to happen determines how viable a solution it turns out to be.

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