Partnering with Yahoo!

John Burke, writing on Editors Weblog, discusses the
deal between
Yahoo! and newspapers
, and at a couple of points, I have some responses.

MediaNews CEO W. Dean Singleton has said previously, “The industry needs to
come together to find a search-engine model so that we begin to monetize news,”
while another newspaper
executive declared news search to be the “long-term future” of newspaper

Here’s the thing: Newspapers once had their own news search engine, run
by the New
Century Network
, and it was a very fine search engine that
certainly could have evolved to compete with Yahoo! and Google News. In fact,
at the time, it really had no competition.

That, of course, is crying over spilt milk.

Yahoo’s new local
news portal
is impressive and shows promise for sending significant traffic
in the direction of local media Web sites.

I’m still not clear on what newspaper companies need to do with Yahoo!
besides make sure Yahoo! is consuming their RSS feeds?

Give Yahoo! their classifieds? I’m not sure I understand why. Get a cut
of Yahoo! banner advertising? But how much of a future does banner
advertising have? And if it has a future, can’t media sites get
a higher CPM on their own sites? I mean, I’m assuming Yahoo!’s new site
is going to quite naturally help increase traffic.

I only know what’s been covered in the press, but help wanted ads
are among the most valuable assets newspaper sites have. Banner ads,
even on Yahoo!, are worth less. Is it a fair trade?

So I’ve been scratching my head over this one. I know some smart
people at big media companies read this blog. If one or two of them
feel so inclined, maybe someone can explain this proposed deal.

It seems to me the smart thing to do in regard to Yahoo! is build stronger
local sites so that when Yahoo! readers interested in local news
inevitably click on one of your links and land on your site, give them
a reason to come back — profiles, blogs and comments in exchange
for registration, e-mail newsletters and RSS feeds of interest,
personalized Web pages. And if you’ve done away with non-local
wire news, you might want to bring it back so that current
Yahoo! readers might become less frequent Yahoo! readers and favor you
with more clicks, especially through customized content.
Chances are, your target Yahoo! audience has
so far been infrequent local news readers, but have a strong
interest in the generic national and international news on
Yahoo! Here’s your chance to give them what they’re used to (including
lots of pictures and video from the wires).

But back to Burke, who concludes his post by suggesting, if I’m reading him right,
that the entire newspaper industry would be better of if Knight-Ridder hadn’t
tried a one-size-fits-all strategy.

Would newspaper companies be negotiating with Yahoo today over whether or
not they can take a cut of the Internet giant’s search revenues? Or would
newspapers already hold such a local Web audience that Yahoo
would be coming to them pleading to power the search on their sites and share

I don’t buy it because there have been hundreds of newspaper sites staffed by
intelligent, creative people, at companies both big and small, over the past 10
years or so, working on getting this stuff right. Not everything
newspaper.coms have done have been failures. Knight-Ridder
did some things right, and the company’s demise is an issue more complex than
just the results of its new media strategy. I could create a list of four or five
things I wish newspaper sites had done five to 10 years ago, but that’s probably another
post. There isn’t much, however, that could have stopped the Yahoo! and Google
jaggernauts. The Web had to mature (and still is maturing) on a national
level first, which made these behemoths somewhat inevitable. The question
now is: What to do about it?

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