Apparently, you can teach an old-media company some new-media tricks. The question is whether anyone will care.

New York Times (NYSE:NYT) is rolling into social networking with TimesPeople. The new service encourages you to register on the New York Times website and tag recommended articles. You can then follow the online picks of the users you decide to track, just as others can follow your recommendations.  

A social hotbed this ain't. It's more Twitter than Facebook, and even then, users aren't actually interacting with one another. In its current form, TimesPeople is a community based exclusively on nodding heads.

If TimesPeople is to evolve, it will need to become more social than that. Yes, you can comment on an actual NYT article and recommend that, but why make actually communicating with others so cumbersome?

At least NYT's heart is in the right place. After all, there's no reason local newspapers can't evolve into local social networks. They already reach a large geocentric audience. And there's a demand for a safer and more accessible social-networking alternative to world beaters such as Facebook, News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) MySpace, or Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Orkut.

The newspaper companies -- Gannett (NYSE:GCI), McClatchy (NYSE:MNI), Washington Post (NYSE:WPO), and New York Times among them -- don't have a choice but to get onboard with the trends. NYT suffered through a 14% ad-revenue decline for August, but it saw its total online ad revenue climb by 11% for the month.

The online migration continues for newspapers, and the opportunity for growth is out there. There's no reason for New York Times not to get onboard.

Related Foolishness:

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't mind getting ink on his hands when he reads the morning paper, but he's starting to wonder why what he reads is yesterday's news. He owns no shares in any of the companies in this story and is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.