What I would like to see now is an analysis of the innovative projects inspired by Newspaper Next.
In the first part of Ellis’ N2 analysis, he addressed whether N2 succeeded in transforming newspapers:
So did Newspaper Next succeed in its mission to reshape the industry? Not exactly.
We’re still in the thick of uncertain times in the news business, but invention has crept into certain corners. Newspaper companies are experimenting with apps, testing new platforms, and publishing niche products (online and in print) to reach audiences outside the daily newspaper. That’s all straight out of the Newspaper Next playbook — but it’s doubtful newspaper execs would have sat by idly if a report five years ago hadn’t told them to try to develop new products. Publishers, editors, executives, and other journalists involved in Newspaper Next say the project deserves credit for encouraging experimentation inside newspapers. But with all its reach and ambition, the project was stifled by economic factors, including the industry’s near extinction-level event in 2008 that saw massive losses in jobs and revenue. As much as Newspaper Next set out to give news companies the tools to transform, survival may have been a bigger and better motivator.
In the second part of Ellis’ analysis, he followed up on the seven demonstration projects covered in the first Newspaper Next report. The direct lasting results were not impressive:
It’s hard not to look at the demonstration projects in total and ask, were these just meant as proposals, or something more? Were they supposed to take on life and begin drawing dollars? Newspaper Next undoubtedly needed the demonstrations as a proof of concept, but were they just paper cranes? Of the seven projects, the ones that saw the light of day, Wicked Local, NorthJersey.com and The Times-Dispatch’s research team, all essentially had their parts in place or were already in motion when Newspaper Next came along. For the others the obstacles were typical on the resources end.
Ellis did thorough research and provided considerable insight in his analysis of N2. But what would be even more meaningful would be an analysis of the projects launched after the N2 report and the teaching we did in 2006 and 2007 following the release of the report.
The demonstration projects Ellis examined, as he noted, were not really a result of N2. They were mostly in the works already, and Innosight, which was the American Press Institute’s partner for N2, consulted with the newspapers doing the seven projects. API used some lessons and examples from the projects in the 2006 report: Blueprint for Transformation. But the real test of N2, to me, was what followed the report.
In the rest of 2006 and in 2007, my API colleagues and I taught the principles from the report to thousands of newspaper executives, journalists, sales reps and other newspaper staff members around the world. The real impact of N2 was what those people did with what we taught.
The second N2 report, Making the Leap Beyond “Newspaper Companies”, included detailed case studies by N2 Managing Director Steve Gray of 24 projects inspired by N2. We’ll understand the impact of Newspaper Next a lot better if someone studies what became of those projects.
I did some quick web searching, and it appears to me that most of the projects are still active. I found 11 of the 24 were clearly active in some form. Seven appear to be dead. Six are print products whose current state I couldn’t tell for sure without further research.
I don’t have time to contact the people cited in the 2008 report and learn what happened with those 24 projects: Which are lasting and resounding successes? Which are hanging on but struggling? Which were complete flops? Which had short-term success but didn’t last? What adjustments helped bring success? What are the lessons learned from the successes and failures? Did some later successful projects build from the lessons or either the successes or failures? I recommend this to some journalism or business graduate student or professor needing a solid research topic. I also invite anyone involved in any of the projects to provide some answers in comments to this post or in a guest post.
I’m glad Justin Ellis took an initial look at the impact of N2, but I want to know the rest of the story. I’d like to know the full impact of Newspaper Next and the lessons from such projects as Quality Consignments, Raising Maine, Dayton B2B, MonroeTalks and TribLocal.