Why news companies should go into the Internet cafe business

By Steve Outing

Today’s tip is, perhaps, a bit bizarre. But don’t dismiss it out of hand! There’s some serious logic to why newspapers and local news organizations might want to open up coffee shops. Seriously.

Credit for this idea goes to Greg Harmon, a media consultant with Belden Associates. He’s pushing the idea to some of his newspaper clients that they should turn some unused space in their buildings into Internet cafes open to the public, as a way to connect with readers more directly and openly. Harmon explains:

“I think it would be easy enough to lease out and open areas to Starbucks or even better, invite some cool local coffee shop to locate there, put in a couple of big screen TVs like we have at airports, install a number of computers/displays with Internet access, sell or give away newspapers there and invite the public into our space.

“Editors and writers could simply wander in and talk to the public! Imagine! The space could be used some evenings for invitation-only focus groups! Imagine! Circulation people could walk in and talk to people about their use of the paper! The Publisher could talk to people who read the paper! … And remember the coffee at nearly all newspapers except the big ones is REALLY terrible!”

Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy at first blush, but actually this fits really well with current media trends. Experts have been preaching to newspapers for years to open up the conversation and interact with audiences, moving to two-way or interactive relationships with readers. This could be a great, albeit small, way to move more in that direction.

As traditional news brands’ influence and power declines, I think it makes sense to try to bolster the brand name. A co-branded newspaper-Starbucks (or Pete’s or whatever) Internet cafe could play up the traditional brand, as well as other newspaper-related brands (such as youth-oriented websites that are separate from the legacy brand).

Beyond a public Internet cafe in a newspaper or TV news office building, how about airports? I’d love to see some co-branded coffee shops there. I’m not sure Starbucks would want to dilute their branding in airports, but perhaps a No. 2 chain like Seattle’s Best would partner with media companies in order to better distinguish themselves from the Starbucks giant.

Harmon says he hasn’t convinced any clients to try this bold idea yet, but he’s hopeful.

What do you think? Good idea? Or has Harmon had too much caffeine?

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!