Have newspaper executives heard of Yelp?
This week as the newspaper industry fell apart just a little bit more, my article saying that the local social media site Yelp was “eating newspapers’ lunch,” came out for The Big Money and Slate. As I worked through my reporting and analysis, I realized the conclusion I was about to print was giving me some trepidation. Was I really about to call a site that reviews dry cleaners and coffee shops a successor to the regional and national newspapers that informed the nation for much of the last century?
Yes and no.
No because what Yelp is doing is not journalism in the traditional sense at all. There are no investigations, no exposés, no police blotter or city hall coverage. International news? Yelp just expanded to include London in its list of cities. So just to be clear, Yelp is not a newspaper, nor do I think it can replace journalism, even on the local level. But newspapers should have invented or invested in Yelp.
Yelp has raised $31 million in venture capital, but, it seems, the site has no ownership stake from any traditional media ventures. That’s ludicrous. Last November, Peter Krasilovsky explained how Yelp was pillaging newspapers’ arts and culture readership demographics. Response from newspapers in the five months since? Crickets. I would love for one newspaper executive, from any newspaper, to please explain to me why Yelp is not part of their company or a partner in their online strategy.
So, my ‘yes’ is because while newspapers and the AP are fighting with Google and getting excited about the Kindle DX, a site that is driving 25 million uniques a month of local arts, culture, dining, and business traffic is turning into their competition. Newspapers are trying to leap over their own heads when thinking about how to survive in the future. But the solutions are right out there on the Internet, staring them in the face. And the archaic idea that newspapers can’t acknowledge or serve local business while still providing unbiased reporting is part of their problem. If executives feel having something like Yelp on their websites is beneath them, they deserve the resulting decrease in prominence and traffic. And if they simply didn’t see Yelp coming, ditto.
At one point the best technology could do for advertisers was to give them a nicely printed grayscale ad in newspapers, which allowed newspapers to make money. Now, technology allows so much more, but newspapers are stuck in the mindset of passive advertising, even on their websites. And when newspapers do experiment with changes in advertising standards, they go the route of louder and more obnoxious, like Page One advertising, not more useful and relevant. (It was Google, after all, that brought contextual advertising to newspapers to begin with.) Here in Yelp is a useful and relevant resource, which, when properly integrated, can not possibly blur the line between editorial and advertising, so diferent is the content. And yet newspapers are doing nothing like it. It’s one thing for newspapers to fight valiantly for survival and fail; it’s another for them to self-marginalize by refusing to adapt to change.
Read my original article here: Rebel Yelp: The replacement for newspapers isn’t Craigslist; it’s local social media. | The Big Money.