The City Paper may be only 10 years young, but there’s no question about it: in today’s game, we’re old media.
We’re basically a bunch of hidebound traditionalists cranking out a product that hasn’t changed significantly since the first newspapers were created in the early 19th century. True, we have more strip clubs ads than they did, and the production process is a little more sophisticated, but at the end of the day we’re working in a medium whose entire existence is predicated on a business model that’s almost 200 years old. That’d be fine if we were in insurance or, say, construction. But we’re not. We’re in the ad-supported content-delivery business, and our entire world is quickly turning upside-down.
I only fully realized this fact two weekends ago when I traveled, along with a few other City Paper types, to San Francisco for the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ inaugural online publishing conference. With speakers like Real Media founder Dave Morgan telling us that not only are we competing for content, eyeballs, and ad dollars with other local print media but, increasingly, with Google and Yahoo, too, it was klaxon alarm sounding in the face of our slow ossification.
In the past 20 years or so, papers like this one have popped up everywhere, offering local news and entertainment coverage with equal parts irreverence, irony, and attitude, taking advantage of the kind of niche-focused advertising medium that daily newspapers — which by their nature must try to be all things to all people — couldn’t duplicate. It worked brilliantly. Now, though, an entire generation of future readers are looking to the internet for their daily (and hourly) fix of entertainment, information, news, and networking, and we’re struggling to figure out how to replicate what we’ve been successfully doing in print for years in a wholly new environment — one where there are “users” rather than readers, and content delivery is a two-way street. We’ve known for some time that the publishing world is changing, and fast, but, like everybody else in the dead-trees-and-ink business, we’ve been unsure how exactly to take advantage of it, or at least avoid being trampled when it steamrolls us on its way to whatever new paradigm it’s creating for the world.
One thing we know for sure: Simply shoveling the contents of our print product online will be about as effective as trying to sell cassette tapes to iPod owners.
Knowing this, we’ve been working our tails off to make the City Paper website (www.charlestoncitypaper.com) much more than shovelware. For three consecutive years, I’ve blogged the Spoleto and Piccolo festivals with up-to-the-minute street coverage, and last spring introduced a 12-series podcast. We recently introduced a new permanent City Paper blog — you can find it right there on the splash page — and we’ll be spinning off individual versions for each of the paper’s sections in just a few weeks, where us writers, and you readers, can sound off on news and events as they happen. This summer, CP webmistress Caitlin Cahill cooked up a feature that lets anyone reading one of our articles online post a comment about it, just like a blog. You’ll also soon see new music and cuisine sections on the site, allowing full interactivity for musicians, diners, and any scenester out on the town with a camera phone.
Eventually, the newspaper’s contents will be only a small part of our online presence, most of which will be generated not by us staffers but by you, the readers. You’ll all be contributors.
It won’t all happen next week, but it will happen. Heck, we may even save a few trees in the process.
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