NewzJunky.com is a warning shot for all newspaper publishers

In writing about NewzJunky the other day, I think I buried the lede.

It’s only deep into the post that I get to the point that NewzJunky.com has trounced, both in audience and volume of advertising (I have no idea what the actual revenue is) the local newspaper site.

That’s no small feat. I don’t know of any comparable event in online media.

I’m not sure that point has sunk in for many people.

If any readers know about another local newspaper getting beat by a direct local competitor, I would like to know about it.

As Jack Lail points out in the comments to the previous post, this is more than a pay-vs.-free story. It’s much more than that.

  • It demonstrates what a one-man operation, or small-staff in a small market, can do. A small staff is more nimble and usually comprised of people with an ownership stake in the venture (talk about motivation!).
  • It shows that you don’t need a big news staff to win the local market online. Many journalists take too much comfort in the notion that, “we have a big staff, so we have an advantage.” Have you seen the news about layoffs recently — a big staff in the future is by no means guaranteed. The other side, of course, is that a small, nimble, hard working staff can beat a bigger, more institutional, bureaucratic staff.
  • It shows that traditional local advertisers will defect to viable local online competitors, and it shows there is a greater hunger for local advertisers to reach a local audience than many local sales staffs can admit. I’ve heard from many small publishers who say, “Our advertisers are not yet interested in online.” Bunk.
  • It shows that users will flock to a site where they can make their own local news contributions, and they value the contributions of other users.
  • It challenges traditional notions about design and usability — what matters is content, both in width (not necessarily depth, which is not the competitive advantage many editors assume it is) and frequency.
  • There are a lot of people in our communities who hate our guts — read some of the comments on the previous post … they will sound strangely familiar to people who have been in the business a while. Give those people an under-dog outlet to rally around, and they might just become the instigators of an inflection point.
  • It demonstrates perfectly how disruption works — delivering a product that is just good enough to take customers away from incumbent players, and that disruption can come in many forms.

While in the NewzJunky.com vs. WatertownDailyTimes.com race, the newspaper’s former pay wall may have been a huge help to NewzJunky winning the race (for now — the race, of course, is not over), but newspaper.com publishers should not take too much comfort in the fact that they offer their content for free. There is an element of the NewzJunky story that demonstrates that any newspaper.com is susceptible to disruptive competition.

On the other hand — this is just one event. Currently, I’m reading Fooled by Randomness. The lesson of that book is just about any outcome in inevitable. Warren Buffet, the guy who gets all of his trades right, is inevitable, given the millions of traders who have tried, and it is probably inevitable that at least one local start-up will beat an incumbent media leader.

Still, I’m not sure newspapers can afford to take too much comfort in the vagaries of randomness.

This is a much bigger story than just a couple of blog posts. Is the sort of thing the trade press should examine more fully. Let’s see if they do.

UPDATE: I stumbled across Quantcast months and months ago, and then lost the link and couldn’t remember the name of the site … thanks to a friend, I just found it again. Relevance here, some confirming evidence that NewzJunky.com is indeed trouncing WatertownDailyTimes.com.  Again, NewzJunky’s audience is twice the size of the Daily Times. Amazing.

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  • skygirl

    NewzJunky is not about journalism, it is a news and gossip aggregator. Amusing, entertaining, and informative, yes. But other people’s words, work, and effort. Very little local input except for brief clips from the local TV station, press releases, the Jefferson County Web Board, YouTube, police reports, and the like.

    WDT might be wise to buy them out and then be able to post their stories on NJ, because NJ already has the market share. ‘Course, I’m sure NJ knows that, and it’s their retirement plan.

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  • Joel Osserman

    I have exhausted much effort trying to reach Newzjunky to advertize and no one ever replies. I would appreciate any contact information! Thanks