At a joint meeting of the boards of VTDigger.org and Vermont Journalism Trust, the directors of the two nonprofit organizations decided unanimously to combine operations.
Vermont Journalism Trust will be the umbrella organization for VTDigger.org. The web site will continue to operate under the VTDigger.org moniker.
As a former Boston newspaper-editor myself, I can certainly attest to the difficulties facing modern journalism.
First, the barriers-to-entry into the publishing market have essentially disappeared. Anyone with an idea and $60 per year can write a self-hosted blog under a unique domain-name that can instantly reach billions of people within seconds. Mark Twin once observed that “the freedom of the press belongs to those who one” — and now, everyone and anyone can own one. Information has become free — and essentially free to distribute. (However, this is not to say that the quality has remained the same.)
Second, the barriers-to-entry into the advertising market have also decreased:
“The economic model that since the mid-19th century has supported print journalism is in steep decline,” [VTDigger publisher Anne] Galloway explained. “Classified and display advertising has migrated to the Web and subscription revenue has been steadily eroded by declining readership and the availability of free news from other media outlets.”
Newspapers have historically received 75% of their revenue from advertising. The choice to offer either paid subscriptions or free distribution on street corners was merely a way to increase a publication’s attractiveness (and rates) to advertisers by reaching as many people as possible.
However, other advertising platforms now offer more-attractive options for companies. As I wrote in a prior post on how social-media guidelines and social-media marketing changed advertising, newspapers merely offer advertisers the opportunity to place in advertisement somewhere in a general-interest publication that will be seen by a certain number of people. But modern methods of SEO and online advertising provide a more-efficient model.
Say that a watch company wants to reach people interested in expensive, luxury watches, and they place an advertisement in the Boston Globe. Perhaps only 3% of the Globe’s readers will be actively interested in luxurious watches and become sales leads — but the advertiser will pay for his message to reach 100% of the audience even though 97% of the readers will be irrelevant. In comparison, an advertising strategy using Google Adwords, PPC advertising, and organic SEO-development will focus only on people who are already interested in luxury watches. It is far more efficient — and almost-always cheaper. And who loses? The Globe.
Here is the reason. Search engines reward niche, specific sites over general-interest ones. After working in SEO and publishing two professional blogs for years, I have learned what works — and what does not work. My other blog, Considerations, is a forum through which I can still write as a journalist covering the various issues of the day. But I realized that it will never generate significant organic-search placement and advertising revenue because it is too general of a website — just like all mainstream-media sites.
When Google “spiders” a website, the platform scans items including the URL, headings, keywords, and content to determine the overall subject-matter. When search-engines crawl Considerations, they will see that the content covers, say, five percent each on the Middle East, dating, economics, U.S. politics, and so on. Google will not know how to assign the content — so the content ends up ranking for nothing in search-engine results by trying to rank for too much.
Search-Engine Optimization in Blogger and Elsewhere
Now, take My SEO Software. All of the parts of the website focus on one, single topic: search-engine optimization and online marketing. As a result, Google will know the topic of the blog and assign it a ranking for the keywords I have targeted. If your goal is to garner as much relevant traffic as possible, it is better to rank tenth in Google for one keyword (a niche site) than 200 for ten keywords (a general-interest site).
As the world continues to move online, SEO and online-marketing will become even more relevant for marketers and publishers. Currently, mainstream-media websites receive their traffic by capitalizing on two assets: the reputation of their brands and the quality of their articles. But that will only take them so far in an online world of infinite competition driven by niche websites.
In response, Search Engine Journal recommends that newspapers and similar outlets use social-media marketing more effectively:
Obviously the newspaper industry is struggling. Industry analysts, journalists and online marketers are frantically scrambling to come up with a smart solution to monetize content and compete with quick and agile bloggers. But while the ship is sinking, social media can act as a great short term solution to keep things afloat. While the newspaper industry certainly will need a strategy in order to survive in the long run, Facebook is offering a very viable (and affordable) short term solution to boosting traffic and page views. (emphasis added)
Even SEJ realizes that SEO and social media may not be enough to save newspapers (or perhaps even the mainstream media in general). After all, using a good tactic in support of a bad strategy is a waste of time.
Search-engine optimization and social-media marketing, of course, are good ways to increase website traffic and pageviews. However, increasing traffic is useless unless the practice translates into increased revenue. And as we have seen, the advertising world increasing rewards mediums that bring targeted traffic rather than general-interest traffic.
Take the example above. Say that the Globe increases traffic by 200%, but only 3% of the readers or visitors will be interested in luxury watches. If you sell that product, would you want to advertise there or on a watch-specific website that brings, say, 1,000 visitors a day — but all of whom are time-piece enthusiasts?
Newspapers, it seems, can no longer compete in the modern, digital world. (As a former journalist, I am saddened by this fact.) But they still serve a crucial, valuable purpose that can be helped by a reorganization into the non-profit world rather than the for-profit one.
Samuel J. Scott, a former journalist in Boston turned Internet marketer in Israel, is the founder and publisher of My SEO Software and Director of Digital Marketing and Communications and SEO Team Leader at The Cline Group. You can follow him at Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. His views here and elsewhere do not necessarily reflect those of his company and clients.