Can Yahoo! and Local Papers Save Each Other?

Yahoo! announced this morning a partnership with a number of large newspaper chains, controlling a total of 176 publications, to share content and functionality. Both Yahoo! and local papers around the US are in a state of crisis, which is amazing if you consider the market and mind shares both still control. Will this partnership make a significant difference for either party? I don’t think it will.

Small, agile, low-overhead local sites that incorporate everything from the authenticity of blogging to the power of video to the immediacy and usefulness of mobile devices are just around the corner. Newspapers will likely retain superior access to other lumbering social institutions for some time, but all parties are going to have to change faster than they will be comfortable with.

The partnership will include the following:

  • Local content will appear on Yahoo! presumably similar to the way AP content does now. That’s a logical and smart move; though local newspaper content is hardly thriving perhaps an infusion of traffic will help improve it.
  • Local jobs listings will appear on Yahoo! HotJobs. I don’t think anyone cares about this – there’s such a proliferation of online job listings that no jobseeker is likely to rely on one centralized site. Imagine trying to be the all-encompassing housing listing site – that too would be a losing proposition.
  • Yahoo will sell ads, provide site search, maps and the Yahoo! toolbar on local news sites. This will mean nothing unless the content on those sites become for more dynamic and compelling.

Comparisions are being drawn in the NYT to Google’s recent partnership with a smaller number of more high profile publications and to similar efforts that have failed in the past decade. Google’s newspaper deal is of course just one of many things they are working on, including selling radio advertising. This Yahoo! deal is too little too late.

It’s a new world and both of these companies face incredible competition. Those competitors, best exemplified by local blogging networks but ultimately just a web of diffused readership, are just beginning to get their game on.

Is there any hope for local papers? The smartest ones are looking to leading examples, like the Lawrence, Kansas Journal World. That local paper has long done incredibly innovative things online – everything from local music blogs to mobile notification of schedule changes for local kids’ sports games. There is hope, but it’s going to require a greater paradigm shift than is represented by today’s announcement of co-operation between staid local sites and a giant portal. The things made possible by new media are just too exciting; this deal will go down in history as a tiny band-aid on top of a massive hemorrhaging in the old media industry.