OK, it’s time to get personal, newspapers

By Steve Outing

I spent today at the Global Conference on the Individuated Newspaper, hosted by MediaNews Group and run by MN’s VP of targeted products, Peter Vandevanter, who is a long-time student and fan of personalized news. Forty or so people gathered in the auditorium of the Denver Newspaper Agency building — an interesting mix of technologists, entrepreneurs, and newspaper folks. Editors and publishers were in the minority at this gathering, though I wish more of them could have heard the message of this conference.

While the organizers chose the term “individuated” for this event, that’s not the best choice. While everyone in the room understands that term, it’s a bit geeky and I don’t think it’ll resonate with media consumers. As the industry rolls out “individuated newspapers” in the future, we’ll have to come up with a more approachable name. (And by individuated newspapers, I of course don’t mean just personalized print editions; delivery platforms also include home printing, phones and mobile devices, PDFs, etc.)

Here’s a really brief description of the key messages that came out of this conference (the ones I want more news executives to hear):

  • The technology to provide news consumers with individuated (personal) news is here now. Other industries consider delivering personalized content to be routine, but newspapers have little to show but a handful of experiments. What’s needed is a newspaper company to take the risk and take personalized news seriously. We really have yet to move much beyond the old MIT “Fishwrap” personalized-news project that started the individuated-news trend way back in 1994.
  • Young people today have individuated experiences with most of their media: TiVo, Netflix, iTunes/iPod, Facebook, MySpace, Amazon.com, Netflix, computer games, cell phones, etc. It’s their way of life. No wonder, then, that they don’t take to newspapers that want to deliver content on the publisher’s terms, not the consumer’s.
  • Individuated news is the inevitable evolution of newspapers. Adapt to it or die. Tomorrow’s consumers will settle for nothing less if they are to remain your customers.

A heartening signal of the industry starting to take personalized news seriously was MediaNews CEO (and chairman of the Associated Press board of directors) Dean Singleton, who presented a (taped) speech about how important he believes individuated news is to his company. That sends a signal to the rest of the industry.

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!