Multi-State Digital Task Force Organized

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            A new multi-state publisher grassroots effort has been launched to help newspapers monetize the Internet by collecting, digitizing and marketing newspaper content. On November 20, thirty-five publishers and representatives of state, regional and national newspaper organizations met at The Kansas City Star to discuss steps to address this problem.

       Those attending from Missouri included Mark Maassen, The Kansas City Star; Brad Gentry, Houston Herald; Andy Waters, Columbia Daily Tribune; Jack Whitaker, Hannibal Courier-Post, representing GateHouse Media; Richard Gard, St. Louis Daily Record, representing American Court and Commercial Newspapers; Brad Buchanan, Scott Buchanan and Ian Buchanan, GeoTel, Columbia; Brian Steffens, National Newspaper Association, Columbia; and Doug Crews, Missouri Press Association, Columbia.  Maassen, Gentry and Waters are Task Force members, representing MPA.

            For several months, a Multi-State Digital Task Force made up of publishers from Missouri, Kansas and Iowa have been discussing this idea. The Nov. 20 Task Force meeting was a facilitated discussion where other newspaper organizations were invited to attend, observe and weigh in with their thoughts.

            The Task Force concluded that it is imperative that publishers begin to discuss the possibilities of forming a new, for-profit company “that collects, stores, digitizes, protects and markets newspaper content”. The mission of this corporation would be to provide news organizations with a means to digitize and archive their content for research, historical and commercial purposes.

            In addition, the company could also provide participating newspapers and newspaper associations with

            —The ability to upload public notices to statewide public notice websites within days rather than weeks to protect the future of these notices in newspapers;

            —The ability of press association ad services to obtain electronic tear sheets within a few days of publication to make ad services more viable and speed payment to newspapers;

            —The ability of newspapers to create low-cost, word-searchable morgues and archives;

            —The ability of newspapers to electronically mine the news stories of other newspapers on any given topic.

            —The ability of newspapers to inexpensively create websites.

            —The creation of a central collection point for the receipt of royalties derived from reused content.

            The Task Force believes that newspapers can leverage their collective power to create a substantial competitive advantage in the information marketplace.

            People are increasingly moving their lives on-line, and the newspaper industry is still searching for a viable model to monetize the distribution of content in an electronic world.  Demand is not the problem – people want news.  The problem is capturing sufficient value from that demand.

            By collectivizing content through state press associations, controlled by the news organizations they serve, the Task Force believes publishers can regain control of the distribution, resale and reuse of newspaper information, while deriving additional value from offsetting the costs associated with producing a physical newspaper.  The industry as a whole will have market leverage beyond what would be possible for a single newspaper, press association or newspaper group.  The Task Force thinks the state press associations are the logical organizations to move this effort forward since almost all newspapers in America belong to their state association. Integration of content through state press associations could lead to substantial benefits for all involved parties.

            The corporation would consist of stock owned by news organizations, associations and individuals who have an interest in helping our industry to solve the problem of content control.  While the Internet has created huge business opportunities it also has destroyed a portion of the traditional monetary underpinnings newspapers have depended upon to fund the gathering of information. Digital files created and owned by a newspaper can be placed so rapidly into the public domain that the ability to derive full value from the product is directly diminished. Products and services are created daily which seek to take that content for their own commercial purposes, paying the source newspaper pennies, if anything.

            The critical criteria and drivers of this corporation would include:

            —Respect for copyright laws and aggressive pursuit of violators

            —Mutually beneficial royalties and profit sharing

            —Historic preservation

            —Efficient and effective newspaper participation

            —Easy user access


            The market for the information would consist of:

1.     Newspapers-In a day of smaller news staffs and a push to localize all information, an archive of both weekly and daily newspapers would be valuable. The archive should also contain past issues, giving any reporter the ability to quickly research any subject.
2.     Clipping services
3.     Advertising tear sheets
4.     Individual stories by subject
5.     Genealogist and research historians
6.     On-line news aggregators
            The Task Force has hired Bill Monroe, who retires from the Iowa Newspaper Association at the end of the year, to facilitate development of a business plan for presentation to the Task Force in early 2010.

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