After all the work I've done on newspaper websites and talking with a group of newspaper publishers last week, I realize that I get asked the same questions quite often.  There are some common misconceptions in the newspaper industry regarding the Web, and I'd like to take this opportunity to highlight and correct these typical mistakes. 

1. The Internet is the Enemy.

This is a big one. As newspapers continue to lose print circulation, the Web is becoming the scapegoat.  Newspapers should know that the Internet is only an enemy if they fail to use it correctly. Largely, the web is an untapped resource for newspapers.

2. We must display all of our site's content all over the homepage.

If you look at typical newspaper websites, the content is often strewn all over the place without any sense of organization. Newspapers often feel the need to display all of their content on the homepage.  This is a mistake–too much content can be overwhelming.  Littering a homepage with buttons and links distracts people's eyes and prevent them from focusing on anything.  Newspapers are better off leading with a couple of big headlines and pictures, letting a strong navigation do the rest of the work.

3. People will pay for content online.

If the current situations at NYT and WSJ aren't enough to prove this, I direct you to Mark Glaser's posts over at MediaShift here. People don't want to pay for average, generalized content online. They might pay for personalized and unique content that provides a specialized service.  But charging for run-of-the-mill stories just isn't going to work. Unless you really have something superior to offer, registration barriers are only going to hurt your traffic. Newspapers are better off offering their online customers the ability to create an optional user profile–in this way, newspapers can get demographic info valuable to advertisers, and users get something in return. 

4. We can't compete with Craigslist and other classifieds providers.

This is just wrong. Newspaper can compete in online classifieds. But to do so, they need to revamp their systems for creating ads and make them much more user- and web-friendly.  Here's an example of how this can work.

5. Websites are complicated and we don't have the time to deal with them.

While #4 was just wrong, this is just silly.  Barriers to entry to the online world–costs and technical requirements–are dropping everyday.  The Web is getting easier and cheaper as we speak.  Sites like the New York Observer (built in free, open-source Drupal), are examples of how newspapers can build great sites using technology with low technical and cost barriers.  No excuses!