Detroit experiment bears watching

It begins next week. The newspaper experiment that could go a long way toward determining how newspapers function in 2010 and beyond, how community information is widely distributed, how businesses communicate with customers and how individuals and organizations tell their all-important story, begins in the motor city.

Next week, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press cease home delivery on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The papers will publish a paltry few thousand copies to be distributed at newstands and newspaper machines. Online publishing will rule the day.

In an excellent article from the Poynter Institute’s Bill Mitchell, the Free Press’ publisher discusses what the city’s newspapers must learn this year.

, Publisher Dave Hunke said the papers must:

* Replace steep losses with positive cash flow
* Convert customer disruption to customer satisfaction
* Discover a digital platform that that attracts the paid loyalty of a mass market

One of the numerous questions involved with this experiment is how businesses will reach customers. This point apparently has not been lost on Detroit. The papers have sold out their print advertising for the first two weeks of this experiment, Hunke said.

Notice Hunke says the papers must discover a viable formula to convince consumers to pay for online content. If newspapers had been to do this, they would have transitioned to the web far more quickly.

Another point to consider: How will businesses and other organizations communicate the information they need to in order to accomplish their objectives? This is a real challenge as local papers across the country cut back and even close.

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