"The land rush is on. Google and Yahoo! know this, they know about [the importance of] local.
"In the average day people want to know about local stuff," Stephen Gray, director of Newspaper Next initiative of the American Press Institute, told the Media Giraffe Project.
"Newspapers are uniquely positioned to capture this land rush, but not if they don't grasp the opportunity."
Mr Gray opened the inaugural Media Giraffe Project conference at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, US, by telling delegates the US newspaper industry was under threat from 'disruptive innovation' - technological developments that could cause readers to seek alternative sources of information.
He quoted from a Newspaper Next survey of newspaper managers that found that 72 per cent of them did not know how to change their business to accommodate the digital age.
"It is clear the industry does not know what it needs to do next," said Mr Gray.
To prosper in the future, newspapers needed not to fear technological innovation and to better understand what kind of information readers were seeking.
He said: "Newspapers need to be looking at the individual and think 'what is going on in this individual’s life that requires them to seek information'."
He recommended a need for traditional media companies to sustain core products while embracing and developing their own new 'disruptive' products that responded to information needs of the public.
He told the conference that the Newspaper Next initiative was working on seven demonstration projects with major publishers throughout the US.
These included a project with the North Jersey Media Group to rethink its approach to the web and broaden its audience and a plan to put The Oregonian in touch with 'urban creatives' in the state, who traditionally did not rely on the newspaper for information.
He added that disruptive products were an opportunity to expand the public reach of newspaper business, which it needed to do if it wished to increase or maintain its readership.
"It would pain me to see the vast resources that newspapers have just piddled away into insignificance."
He added: "I just don't want to see those things get thrown away."
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