Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Newspapers: Looking Back and Ahead

Jumbo multi-wheat Krispies + New York Times on the Kindle

In his final column for Editor & Publisher, Steve Outing takes a trip into newspapers' recent past and offers some predictions for the industry's future. As he notes, hindsight is always 20/20. Nevertheless, it's interesting to explore what newspapers might have done to head off the calamity they face today and the future that some still may achieve.
As much as I have loved newspapers, since the Web came along in late 1993, it hasn't been the paper, per se, that I loved -- but rather the type of journalism that newspaper companies were able to produce. While far from perfect, newspapers were able to afford the big editorial staffs, which other media forms could not, to cover their communities well and (often) uncover mistakes, corruption and wrongdoing by government and business.
Unfortunately, he notes, newspaper executives failed to see the transition to digital technology and early on could have explored Internet businesses to complement their news-gathering operations, including developing mobile and other platforms for delivering news content. Lord knows they had the money to spend, and spend they did -- on other "old" media properties instead of looking ahead.

Ahh, that sounds so simple," he concludes. "If only someone had created a time machine in the mid-1990s, then comic-strip artists and late-night comics wouldn't be making fun of newspapers as today's buggy-whip makers."

Outing sees a variety of scenarios for the future of newspapers, ranging from small independently owned operations that can succeed in print (for a little while) to larger operations collaborating with independent journalists, bloggers and news aggregators.
Newspaper companies that do survive and prosper do so by devoting significant resources (at executive and technical levels) to mobile as the next platform of opportunity. They don't repeat the mistakes of a decade earlier made with the Web, but instead raise mobile to a top priority. ... Newspapers that do well adapt quickly to the instant nature of crowd-sourced news (e.g., aggregating and filtering eyewitness reports from Twitter), rather than fight it.
The newspapers that will succeed are those that go on the offensive, innovating and experimenting with new platforms and news-gathering models.

It's an interesting read.


Photo credit: "Jumbo Multi-wheat Krispies + New York Times on the Kindle" by inju, courtesy of Flickr.com/Creative Commons

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