A long Salon article that starts out unpromisingly by repeating old news about the dumbed down free tabloids aimed at young adults gets suddenly exciting at the end of the third take. (You'll have to watch an ad to get that far, but it's worth it.) That's when Farhad Manjoo introduces us to Rob Curley, the new media editor of the Naples (Fla.) Daily News.
Curley gets it -- completely and profoundly:
The Curley method is to convert small regional newspapers into powerhouses on the Web and make them indispensable to their communities -- as indispensable as print newspapers once were, or should have been, to the regions they served. He counsels newsrooms to focus their resources on gathering local news. With the Web, national news has been "commoditized"; you can get national news anywhere, and local newspapers aren't going to beat out bigger papers -- or other news sites, such as Yahoo -- that provide national coverage.
When papers embrace their mission to provide local news thoroughly, efficiently and in any manner people choose -- in print, online or whatever other device people may want to start using tomorrow -- audiences will flock to them, Curley says. He points to his efforts in Lawrence, Kan., where the three Web sites he created for the Lawrence Journal-World became the center of that college town's daily life.
Can this business model stand on its own? No one's proven it yet. But this is where newspapers win -- by divorcing themselves from the medium and focusing on the information and the audience.
Ten years ago, when I was editing NetGuide, we'd review hundreds of Web sites a month. My publisher once asked me what our criteria were. We ask ourselves, "Is it useful?" I told her. Does the site have good information presented in a way that its readers want? The publisher, expecting a detailed and weighted punch list of features, was puzzled by the response, which may be one reason NetGuide ultimately failed.
Ten years later, the answer's still good. Own your market. Be useful. People will come.
Let me be clear: I want to either work for Rob Curley or be Rob Curley. This is a guy who knows the answer.