3 Ideas to Jump-Start Innovation at the Inquirer and Daily News

It’s long past time to start.



Well, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News are under new ownership, which looks a lot like the old ownership. Somewhat distressingly, Lewis Katz and Gerry Lenfest bought total control over the papers without much apparent idea what to do next — except hire the right guy to fix it all.

While they’re waiting to do that, here’s three ideas — tried elsewhere — to jumpstart innovation and hopefully clot the bleeding going on at the papers.

• Mr. Lenfest: Tear down that wall: The paywalls that greet you at Inquirer.com and PhillyDailyNews.com are possibly the worst things in the entire American newspaper industry. They’re “hard” walls, meaning you generally have to pay to get in. Unless you have a code, in which you still have to hand over some personal data to get in. What the paywalls at the paper’s websites are best at doing is driving traffic to Philly.com, where it’s easy to find all the same stuff free.

No more. Time for tiered walls at all three sites. If you’re obtaining content that originated at the Daily News or Inquirer, you get 10 free articles a month; after that, it’s time to pay. If Philly.com wants to stick to all free all the time, it should only use a limited number of articles from the newspaper. Mr. Lenfest: You can’t keep giving it all away. Give some of it away, and use it to entice digital readers in.

•Monetize Your Brand Names: Ezra Klein has Vox. Nate Silver has FiveThirtyEight. Time to give Craig Laban his own (paywalled) site, his own staff, and let them loose to become the premiere foodie website in the Northeast United States. (With the exception of my dear friends at Foobooz, of course.) You’ve got to maximally exploit the resources that you have in your newsroom already.

•Let people, once they’ve paid, consume your content how they like. Mr. Lenfest, the RSS feeds offered by your company are crap. If I want to get a feed that’s just David Gambacorta’s stories, I should be able to. Same for the Inky’s Chester County stories.  And if people don’t use RSS quite as much anymore, well, it’s also the case that there’s no fun or satisfactory way to read the Inquirer on my iPad’s Flipboard app. (Hell, you might be able to generate more advertising from that.) Have you seen the Daily News‘ iPad app? Ugh. The point is: There are lots of places in the digital space where you’re not found, or at least not easily found, or maybe they’re simply found badly. Find those spaces. Fill them.

These are just three ideas. They won’t save the organization. But they will be a start. It’s long past time to get started.

Find @JoelMMathis on Twitter.

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  • JA_199

    Sorry, but I wouldn’t pay two cents to read Craig Laban’s columns. And I say this as a 30+ year subscriber of the dead-tree edition of the Inky.
    Your first point is a good one, of course, and their inability to figure out how to make paywalls work for them is one of the biggest headscratchers about the company.

  • pjcostello

    Drop the leftist bias is your ‘news’ articles and half of the columns. You’re alienating half your potential readership.

    • matthew brandley

      You nailed it! That’s why Many people stop reading the paper. Left wing rag of the Obama adm is all they have become

      • Tina

        HAH right, that’s what it’s always been. Lost readership because people who still read handheld copies of newspapers have probably died. And they haven’t done any of the really smart things listed in this post.

    • LE

      Replacing the “leftist” bias with “rightist” bias will leave the paper in the same place it is now – with half the “potential readership” being alienated.

      • pjcostello

        I didn’t advocate for rightwing bias. How about NO BIAS??? There’s a thought.

  • FixOurNewspapers

    I hope Lenfest and Katz take a look at the 96-page Innovation report that the NYT recently completed… it offers some critical thoughts on moving newspapers into the digital era.

  • Tina

    These are such great points and so insanely accurate, it’s amazing there hasn’t been one g-damn person in this city who’s been able to implement any of it, AT THIS STAGE IN THE GAME. Many print publications have figured out how to make money online in an organized fashion, and have actually been fairly successful. There’s so many examples to follow, yet Philly’s is still completely out of wack with 10 different buggy platforms none of which get you what you want, its embarrassing.