The future of local

I’ve been asked to write an essay envisioning the newspaper in 2020. I think that’s the wrong way to envision it. Instead, I want to think about what (local) news, information, and community can and will be like a dozen years from now. Rather than starting with an existing operation, start with the opportunities and then figure out how to fit into them. More posts to come on this but I’d very much like your prognostications about local or national media (or whatever you choose to call it). How will be operate? How will be get and share news and information? How will we connect? How will we conduct business? Any thoughts gratefully gobbled.

  • One of the biggest ties that binds any local community together? Their local sports club. Best read page of a local newspaper? The back. Emotionally everyone feels they own it; it’s their club. Alas, they don’t ‘own’ the news produced therein; the gates of the locker room and dressing room have yet to be broken down by the massed and eager ranks of the citizen journalist armies. Coach can only talk to one person at a time. So, someone from within their community has to be charged with going in and fetching out ‘their’ news. And on the basis of it not being done by rotation or alphabetical order, that trusted and recognised individual will, in every likelihood, need to be a professional journalist whose ‘tradecraft’ is such that he doesn’t find the doors locked the next time he visits; that the coach is still speaking to him a week later. Thereafter, it’s case of sharing those prized news and views in the most convenient way possible for the surrounding sporting community and, news devoured, allowing them the opportunity to debate it at length between themselves. A process that – in theory – could be repeated for any ‘closed’ news event beyond sport – from the court house to the council meeting to the police press conference, someone trusted by the local community has to fetch that news out. Someone that’s trained to do it; but that same someone doesn’t need a newspaper to distribute it any more…

  • allegra

    In 12 years, “local news,” i.e., metro news, will take on less significance as our lives become more insular. As technology becomes cheaper to buy and easier to use, communities will enable their own networks and distribute their own news. And if communities see less and less of themselves represented in “local news,” they will become less reliant on local newsdesks as reliable information sources.
    I am 28, and not one of the far-flung friends in my “neighborhood” subscribes to the local paper. Our world is bigger, but also more concentrated at the same time. Moreover, the local newspapers in my area are run and distributed by a generation much older and much less diverse than mine. The insensivities to race and class cause me to question papers’ reliability … the way
    By 2020, people will be looking for information that is relevant to their “personal lives.” If local crime and politics are what they care about, they will check feeds on local crime and politics as one would check Facebook. Reliable, trused information sources will still be vital to communities

  • allegra

    Rick, I agree with you. “Someone trusted by the local community has to fetch that news out. ”
    “Local” meaning whatever “local” will mean in 12 years. Communities who care about a subject will rely on trained, dependable sources who understand what is important to them. Geography will matter less to these communitites, and sensitivity to their needs and concerns will matter more.

  • chico haas

    Hold up today’s NYTimes and imagine the date being June 21, 2020. That’s what it’ll be.

    However, IF anything changes: it’s not paper any longer, but a material that can be remotely updated as news breaks. But you’ll still walk around with it. And it’ll still have World, National, Local, Sports, Business, etc. But that’s a big if.

  • Suddenly, I’m immersed in these online journalism issues. A lady who wants to start a Peoria IL online newspaper just left our office a moment ago.

    I told her about news rivers, mobile news, local search, monetizing a news site, video classified ads, RSS, feedrolls, credibility badges, journalist blogging, reader comments, comment moderation, newspaper dysfunctionalities, crowdsourcing, Twitter micro-blogging, and related issues. For two hours.

    It’s News. Not newspapers, or print vs. digital, or tangible vs. virtual. Those seem secondary. The primary thing is News Sourcing and Delivering. However that shakes out. Probably wifi mobile at the top.

  • Jeff, As I have been saying on my blog, I am forseeing a collapse of metro area media (newspapers and local TV affiliates). National, international, and weather news will be gobbled up by out-of-town sources, and hyperlocal news will be much more interesting than metro stories, as metro is an increasingly arbitrary geography that does not affect people’s lives as much as what happens in their own communities. Lately, I have detected a bold move by Fox to grab what’s left of metro news by its TV affiliates creating web sites backed by Fox corporate. The Internet will become the only news medium, albeit over a variety of devices, so all news outlets will be competing against each other. So, to finally answer part of your question, newspapers will either provide hyperlocal news over the Internet or be gone entirely. For your other questions, please check-out my blog, particularly the Permanent Articles at the top right (Steve Boriss,

  • In 12 years “news” will be divorced from the media that distributes it and the term “newspaper” will be a quaint anachronism.

    Professional journalists will work for non-profit associations organized something like the way PBS is organized now — with local/state affiliates and a national organization. There will be a church/state relationship between the journalists and the fundraising arm.

    The product may be licensed to anyone who wants to sell it through any medium — so if you want to put it on paper and deliver it to doorsteps, fine. But there won’t be any exclusivity from one medium to the next.

    The professional journalism associations will have brand identity — some will brand as serious journalism, others will brand as gossipy pap. Some will rely exclusively on subscribers for funds; others will rely on corporate sponsorship. Some will have an certain slant in their coverage. Some will have strict journalistic standards.

    There will be fewer professional journalists than there are today, but they will be held in higher esteem. They will be at the top of the heap on a pile of news produced automatically or by interested amateurs within the community.

    Over the next 12 years as the number of professional journalists shrinks, there will be lots of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair as those who have to find another job will decry the end of civilization and the return of a new dark ages.

    They will find another job and we will all be better off.

  • Warren Bonesteel

    Journalism twenty years into the future, eh?

    There are technologies appearing on the near horizon that some of you need to bone up on. These technologies will not only change journalism, they will change our culture.

    Most of your strategies and opinions are still thinking about Web 2.0 …when Web 3.0 is nearly upon us.


    Second Earth
    by Wade Roush

    “The World Wide Web will soon be absorbed into the World Wide Sim: an environment combining elements of Second Life and Google Earth.”


    The articles is several pages in length. I’d advise you to read all of it and read a few of the hotlinks. After that, you can begin the real research…

    Google video: Augmented Reality, holograms, and OLED technologies.

  • Not only what we now call newspapers will be obsolete in 2020, but also the “online” version as we know it today will not exist.

    The new technology that merges (and slowly replaces) your entertainment and information channels of television, personal computer, internet, movies, etc. will enable you to access what is produced by both mainstream giant media conglomerates, as well as the new smaller independent entities in a very customized and selective basis with no regards for geographical or even local technological limitations.

    In short, “local” will seize to be as important, except for accessing regional traffic conditions, weather reports and accessing the local police department’s “channel” to see if what you just heard outside your window was actually a gunshot or a blown battery on one of those new Peruvian-made solar powered personal scooters.

    The new broken boundaries have allowed you to be a citizen of your home city of Nanjing (Jiangsu, China) and cheer on the Giant Pandas, you local professional basketball team while working at your bank’s branch office in Peoria.

    Can’t happen in 12 short years? Remember newspapers in 1995?

  • One thing that will likely continue to grow in larger urban areas are the commuter free newspapers (Metro is the biggest group). Less cars more urban transit equals more readers for these free newspapers. Sure people will be wired up head to toe with gadgets but these newspapers will still fill a niche market.

  • Joe O

    I believe the media’s role will not be the “here’s all you need to know” filter it once was. I’d expect much more pinpoint focus, with a select few publications keeping the broad scope of “news” as their own (ie: the Times and USA Today).

    People will gravitate towards whatever is “news” to them. In this sense, journalists will have to live with serving a niche and no longer being the distributors of vast knowledge. We just have to trust the public we serve will get to it. Somehow. That or we’ll have to make much broader connections between Lindsay Lohan’s drug problems and Palestine.

    Likewise, I think the public will take a much more active role in molding their media in the very capitalistic way of allowing bad outlets to tank. This is good. The cream does rise to the top.

    Also, the accountability will be much more direct than it is now. And reporters and editors that don’t respond directly to readers’ comments will be damned to the uber-vicious world of the “media elites,” too good to give their readers the time of day.

    Likewise, photo and video credits, as well as “additional reporting” will be credited to the appropriate Joe Shmo who happened to contribute a bit – it should be happening now but doesn’t often enough.

    Just quickly glancing over some of the comments, I didn’t see many suggestions as to how any of this will be profitable? Should I expect the same useless ads taking up space on the pages (electronic or otherwise) of my daily read/view? There’s lots of theories but I don’t think the currency of portable electronic media has been established yet. I don’t want to work pro-bono is what I’m trying to say. Look forward to the essay.

  • Thirteen years from now:

    Traditional forms of media will still exist, but they’ll be less dominant and a smaller group of people will use them. There will be afternoon newspapers even, mostly in small, rural towns. Those newspapers will produce their areas’ only TV newscasts.

    But overall, fewer people will tune into a “newscast.” Fewer people will get their news from a “page” of any kind. The page metaphor will decline, for all but a sliver of people. The Web page will be as quaint as reading a newspaper in a pdf. News will be produced to be shared.

    Paper will still be around, for a sliver of an audience. Commodity news will be provided on paper to those who want it on paper by free shoppers and weeklies. Some larger papers will have a Sunday print edition, with some niche publications, and will be online only the rest of the week.

    More people will feel like they get their news from their friends. Big media companies will try to buy your friends, who will try to find a new place to hang out, after Friendster, Facebook, MySpace and Facebook again. Big media will target the opinion influencers, the Kevin Bacons in your lives.

    Your friends won’t call themselves citizen journalists, and very few of them will think they’re publishing to the community. They’re just hanging out with friends, sharing photos of cats and parties, and the occasional news bulletin.

    No medium will dominate, not RSS, not YouTube, not Twitter. Fragmented audiences will become slivers.

    For most journalists, journalism will be more of a hobby than a career. It won’t be your day job. Most citizen journalism will be disappointing, but a few stars will be created. There will be very few Zapruders.

    Each new technology will inspire fresh ideas and voices, then copyright violations, then rights deals.

    Newspaper companies that demand profits of 20 percent or more will ride that 20 percent down to 20 percent of nothing. A company that is content with 10 percent or even 5 percent will survive.

    The big techno-media question for most people will be: On which device do I want to get the local car dealer’s ads?

  • The question was to envision a newspaper in 2020. Newspapers are liked and have purpose for one reason – they are news on paper. You can take one anywhere, they’re disposable, they’re light, you can pick and choose what to read, in what order and at what pace, you can read something about what happened the day before.

    By examining their appeal you can get an idea of their place or usefulness in future. By examining technology you can determine if something improved or disruptive will replace them.

    Newspapers as a medium are not going to disapear in 12 years for the same reason they survived the introduction of radio and television. The medium itself is sound and has appeal, and offers sufficiently distinguishing characteristics from the other mediums. Some people will always want to read their news on paper – be it on a bus, on a Sunday, on the toilet.

    But in 2020 we will have electronic paper and it’s here where the disruptive changes will come, and where the opportunities will lie. Electronic paper and super lightweight web tablets have the potential to be highly disruptive to newspapers as they offer similar characteristics, but with improvements.

    The problem is the timing of the question – I don’t think that in 12 years e-paper will be sufficiently mainstream enough that everyone on a train will be rolling e-paper out of a brushed metal tube. But some people will, and the more progressive newspapers will already be delivering electronic subscription copies to those people. The smarter newspapers will be offering personalized electronic versions of their particular newspaper.

    Not to be outdone however the aggregator types will play a fierce role here. Think Google News on electronic paper, think complete, personalized electronic newspaper content using wisdom of crowds and learn your taste algorithms and multiple sources. You could have a daily newspaper combining the best bits from your favourite newspapers from around the world, and mash it up with video, blog postings, independent journalists and the favourite stories as read by all your friends. And read all that on the bus.

    In short, I feel the free ‘Metro’ style newspapers will continue to flourish for their characteristics of instant gratification, zero cost and disposability but will ultimately decline as e-paper technology goes mainstream. The more traditional newspaper brands will survive through vanity ownership and some difficult years and restructuring. The ones who continue to offer good content may just experience a renaissance (thanks to technology), if they can hold out long enough…

  • Greg0658

    Brian Cub your so on. One thing about life in America is its fast paced for laboring workers and parents. Media abundance is going to be its own demise, but we need media abundance to employe for the sake of the pyramidal economy.

    I don’t want to see newspaper print gone and replaced with this digital medium, but with more and more small town newspaper routes delivering by car its inevitatble.

    Then again … maybe with neighborhood distribution centers, kind of like gang rural mailboxes (USPS & approved entities like newspaper, phonebook) in 1 mile quadrants. Would that save or waste gas?

  • Pingback: Pete’s View()

  • Guy Love

    Anything in print, with the exception of books, is dead in 2020. People can access information from anywhere (including McDonald’s wireless touchscreens for example). This is because it is to expensive to keep printing stuff that has an incredibly short life span. People simply see it as an inconvenience to even buy it to look at, when they can easily do it faster and better electronically.

    As a future news consumer, I decide to quit watching my digital movie I just ordered and switch over to the gateway website of my choice. I type in my zip code and hit the local button, suddenly a tailored web page pops up with endless amounts of detail down to the latest DUI arrest of my neighbor, posted by my local police force 5 minutes ago. I don’t really care who is tracking this stuff, only that it is easy to find and I can drill down to the lowest level of detail.

    I get bored with local and decide I will jump over to national or international or maybe even check out what is going on at the Mars space mission base in real time. It takes 5 seconds to set the scope of the information I want and hit a button to show me all the data feeds from the various news services. This is dwarinian information selection, whoever has the best data, gets the most audience share. No matter how obscure the information, somebody is specialized in that niche and is pumping it out to the masses 24/7. The gateway portal sites assist the individual to filter it down quickly, efficientently, and customized for their own interests.

    Getting ready to go feed the dog, I post a quick alert on anything related to the stock market plummeting over 200 points and make sure that my cell phone will beep me if that happens. I then cram in a half hour on the latest first-person shooter and hit the sack thoroughly saturated with all the information I can handle for one day. Ah, what fun it is to live in 2020.

  • Value stories and work out how they resonate, value wisdom and what an older generation, as it’s fading, gained from the power of communal stories. Perhaps it’s time to stand back a little, away from the technology and tools, and think about the concept of community, from a mythological angle.

    I’ve just written a post about this on my website.

  • Pingback: God is in the Roses « warm hunting()

  • Long time reader of this blog, in fact, Jeff put me in touch with some partners of Craigslist many moons ago. That didn’t work out but some VCs found my blog, asked me if I had any ideas, and funded my idea for a local news site.

    Now that I’m actually building the thing I can’t talk about it but there are a handful of us convinced we have the answer to this problem. And the prototype is a hell of a lot of fun to play with. Thanks for the knowledge Jeff, this blog is like a poor man’s J-School.

  • “It’s News. Not newspapers, or print vs. digital, or tangible vs. virtual. Those seem secondary. The primary thing is News Sourcing and Delivering. However that shakes out. Probably wifi mobile at the top.”

    Agree with the first bit. It’s about news not newspapers. Local is right now hindered by a lack of technology. All of the focus is on national.

    You can’t equate the death of the local paper to the death of local news. In fact I think we’ll see a renaissance in local news when distribution monopolies and local papers are out of the way.

    Mobile is way over-hyped. Yes it will improve as we get ubiquitous mobile broadband and fancier gadgets but those same trends make travel less necessary. Do I really need an IPhone if I just work from home and have a decent stereo plugged into my PC and Sirius account which streams over the internet? I’d rather use good speakers and my 24” monitor than use earplugs and squint. The future only looks mobile because people have run out of ideas that work when stationary.

    Some hypothetical local news site could put hundreds, maybe thousands of journalists out of work not because they lack talent but because their jobs are tied to the old, dying, system. The transition will be painful but I really can’t wait to move on.

  • Joe filipe

    A great resource of online media such as newspapers, radio, tv, video, etc, can be accessed at:

  • Pingback: Press “mixed group” members for feedback « Voltron()

  • You’re a clever lot, aren’t you? I hope Mr J’s got what he wants from your replies but even if he hasn’t, I’ve got a lot from you all – thank you.

    The news site I’ve built – am still building – is the product of the sorts of beliefs many of you have touched on.

    That news isn’t about ‘local’ or ‘national’, it’s about what interests the individual – it’s something someone is interested in enough to search for.

    That it won’t be about geographic communities but about communities of interests – what your friends are up to; things that happen on streets you’ve lived on; big issues you care about; companies you’ve worked for; subjects you’re studying; things you’ve seen happening; human interest stories that resonate; news from your own life you want to share.

    Which is ‘newsense’ but not necessarily as we’ve been taught it as editors/journalists.

    Except there isn’t an editor out there who could mash up the right mix of news for me unless I’m the one telling that editor what I’m interested in. So I think the future is user-led news gathering and sharing, with individuals creating their own ‘newspaper’ of stories that interest them and news they’ve written and sharing it with their group.

    I’d like to be able to say the site we’re building ( has got all of that so go, enjoy! But it hasn’t, yet. Sweeble’s still nine months off where I want it to be because we’re media-independent, un-funded and we keep making mistakes and having to re-do bits (damn them bits!).

    But any of you who want to have a look and make suggestions, or even help out, will be more than welcome.

    Sue Greenwood ([email protected])

  • Jeff,

    Sorry to be brief here in the comments and not wanting to trend into advertorial, but I recently wrote a piece closely related to your question on Onotech entited ‘event search drives traffic’ which can be found here.

    The summary version is: local is three things — what to do (events and activities), what to buy (commerce), and what happened (news). Local user need to a) actively search and b) passively discover in all three of these categories. The primary mechanisms by which they will do this are search (relevance) content (editorial opinion) and social networks (Zuckerberg’s ‘social graph’ and recommendations from networks close and far). All of this content discover happens across mediums — video, audio, text, photo. I’m not clever enough to put together the entire picture in just the way it will play out, but it’s pretty obvious that these are the big factors in play. Local media is woefully unprepared for either search or social mechanisms, and woefully unprepared for the ‘what to buy’ and ‘what to do’ use cases (though YP and NP advertising are elements that can lead toward ‘what to buy’ solutions. Zvents, my company, is focused on the ‘what to do’ local search opportunity — one key piece of this fascinating Venn diagram.

  • Lindsay Lohan is such a fun lady!