Free strategic advice for the @dailyemerald

Last night, I realized we’ve started bitching about the Daily Emerald in the peanut gallery without offering any positive advice for change. I’d like to offer my thoughts on how to turn the struggling newspaper into a successful digital news enterprise.

Step one: hold a transparent weekend (or weeklong) jam session to develop a strategic plan. Invite as many intelligent stakeholders as you can to a retreat, and put together a website for that retreat with the agenda, list of everyone involved, and goals. It might also be useful to have a open community forum in the week preceding to hear strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of the audience, or launch a website where the community and submit and vote on ideas for the news organization. When retreat happens, however, make it open and participatory. Make sure everyone at the retreat is documenting the discussion on Twitter, and livestream as much of the discussion as you can. Have a designated “community manager” for the retreat who looks for suggestions from watchers and brings those to the meeting. Tap the intelligence of the digital crowd, especially because you’ll be able to bring even more smart brains from afar.

Step two: campaign over summer 2009 amongst the Daily Emerald alums to raise the funds necessary to implement the strategic plan. Shop the plan out to them to get their feedback and insights, and use CRM (or customer relationship management) software to track these interactions. When I left, they were using a FileMaker database system and analog mail. I would ditch this system immediately, and my first investment would be software like Salesforce.com (which a news organization could also use to sell advertising more effectively). Using the new CRM, it would be wise to fundraise amongst the alums who want to see their old newspaper experiment with this platform called the internet. Including them in the process, by sending them the strategic plan and a link to the website with an archive of all the video, will make them more invested in the process (if they like what you’re doing at least).

Step three: implement the strategic plan starting in Fall 2009. If I were the publisher of the Daily Emerald, these three are of many things I would attempt to drastically right the direction of the news organization:

  • Quit the College Publisher habit. Being on a locked, proprietary content management system is probably the worst foundation you could have for a digital news organization. Focus heavily on recruiting a few developers out of the computer science program, and build a basic website on Django that you can grow from. If you ask nicely, the Daily Gazette at Swarthmore or Daily UW might be willing to lend enough code to get you started.
  • Move to once a week in print. I know that this would be very, very difficult, especially because the bulk of revenue comes from the print product, but it needs to happen nevertheless. Necessity is the mother of invention. Do it, and publish daily online.
  • Empower your community. Break down the ivory tower, and hold workshops to teach interested community members how to report on the issues they’re passionate about. I am quite certain that club sports at the University of Oregon don’t get the coverage they deserves, and there are probably at least several people who could tweet at games and submit high quality images for a photo gallery.

Right now at the Daily Emerald, though, they’re going about it the API emergency meeting way, and this is just one of the many reasons I think startups make more sense in this climate. I mean, look at all of the effort it’s going to take to turn this ship around, let alone reinvent it.

There’s also been discussion that student news will be largely unaffected by the tornado ripping through regional newspapers right now. Even if that is the case, I would like to propose an analogy: if you’re driving towards the cliff of irrelevance, your direction is what is most important. It doesn’t matter that your car’s engine hasn’t seized up yet.

8 thoughts on “Free strategic advice for the @dailyemerald

  1. Good, positive suggestions here Daniel, but I have to disagree with one major point. The paper likely can’t afford to go to one-day-a-week in print. If the Emerald’s ad numbers follow the trend that most colleges seem to be in , loosing the print edition is just not financially feasible.

    For a as yet undetermined reason, print still works very well for the freesheet college media. Yes, we need to plan for a day when it won’t, but for now, it’s still the goose that’s laying the golden (well… maybe pewter) eggs.

    I’d suggest that instead, they move to a web-first newsroom. Get them thinking of the print as a secondary product. It’s what they put out for the business side, but all real journalists at the paper are concern with the online edition first.

    ‘Course, figure out how to instill that mindset in a bunch of j-students that are still required to send in physical clippings for internships, and you’ve got a solid new plan for j-education that I wanna hear :)

  2. Are you saying that The Daily Emerald doesn’t abide by the national averages and is loosing money on each print edition?

    ‘Cause, if so, then yes, they oughta cut down. If not, then there’s no reason to get rid of a money maker until it starts to affect the prime product. If they can still make money off the print, but go web-first. It’s worth keeping a secondary product around.

  3. Adam Betz says:

    Daniel,

    I do not know enough about the revenue streams of the Daily Emerald to suggest whether once-a-week or five-times-a-week printing is optimal, but I do agree with many of your suggestions here.

    I am especially optimistic about point number 1). Every year at the company I work for (IBM), they do exactly what you suggest: hold a week-long, participatory, on-line “Jam session” (They call in “Innovation Jam”). It is heavily advertised internally and to their business partners, and I suspect also some academic and public institutions as well. The idea is to get as much feedback as possible to see what new ideas people have, what the new future technology is, questions on management decisions, etc. It’s a very successful program every year, and I’m glad to see that this business strategy doesn’t just apply to large international corporations, but that it is a good idea to adopt at much smaller levels – even as small as a student newspaper. Not to sound too dramatic, but the world has changed – it takes new ideas from all parties involved to make good decisions. No one single person, or group of people, has a monopoly on wisdom.

    The other suggestion that I think the ODE could adopt immediately is 1) moving to just black-and-white. I don’t know how much this would actually save for the print edition per issue, but it is a logical step that shaves the cost of production, and one that still does not hurt business partners and advertisers (they would, of course, disagree).

    Good insight, and good constructive attitude!

  4. Nice post Daniel. Some really good ideas in there. Like Adam I don’t know enough about the Emerald’s revenue stream to honestly know whether a once-weekly or five-times-a-week is better. Seems to me though that those don’t have to be the only options. For a college newspaper couldn’t a twice-weekly make a lot of sense? That way they could publish on say Wednesday and Sunday. This would give them an issue (Wednesday) to cover the weekly on campus events, etc. and another issue (Sunday) to cover the weekend sports (both club and varsity). It would also give advertisers incentive to run ads in the Wednesday paper; they could do weekend-specific deals for students. Anyways, just my thoughts, good article though.

  5. Daniel says:

    “The paper likely can’t afford to go to one-day-a-week in print.”

    Great point Joey, but that’s exactly what’s up. It can’t afford to stay a paper any more either. It’s not financially feasible to print once-a-week now, nor is it financially feasible to print five days a week now. It’s just like the United States being addicted to foreign oil: the Daily Emerald needs a pretty significant investment in it’s future. The other scenario is that they don’t and keep limping along until 2 years from now when they really feel the crunch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>