Newspapers with 2020 vision

I just finished writing an essay for the World Association of Newspapers answering their question: What will newspapers be in 2020? And I see that my friend Dave Morgan is writing an essay answering the same question for the Newspaper Association of America. I’m glad the industry is so optimistic to believe there is a 2020 for them.

Here’s my essay (warning: 2,400 words of Jarvispeak). Please do give me feedback (it’s due tomorrow!). The lede (will we still be using such quaint newspaperisms in 2020?):

“By 2020, we had better hope that newspapers aren’t just papers anymore but are valued members of larger networks that enable their communities to gather, share, and make sense of the news they need.”

Here are the issues Dave is exploring; he, too, is asking for feedback here.

* Dave, like me, chose not to see newspapers as newspapers: “However, I do believe that there will be many large and very robust local news, information and advertising media products; probably, in fact, many, many more of them than we have today, particularly in large metro markets.”

* A bold, tree-saving prediction: “All media will be digital. There may still be some analog components in the supply chains of media companies, but analog will be a very small part of the business. . . . I do believe that we will have virtually no paper-based media products in 2020. . . . We won’t have paper because it is a very expensive and wasteful way to deliver news and information.”

* He says that these news products will not be one-size-fits all; couldn’t agree more. “Consumers will get best-of-breed information services from many different providers.”

* “There will be many, many different digital media devices. Many of these devices will be portable; all will be networked. . . . And most devices will permit users to communicate and create, not just consume.” We can only hope so.

* “Media brands will matter — but old brands will matter less.” I’m not sure how much I agree with this. In an atomized media architecture, facts and updates will be mushed together in many forms. Brand — read: trust — will matter but I’m not sure we yet know how brand will travel with content.

* He says that applications will be as important as products. “Discovering, editing, synthesizing, analyzing news and information and advertising is what will attract and retain consumers.” Again, I hope so. I don’t think we’ve seen much innovation in this arena . . . yet.

* A prediction I like: “Sending someone to a city council meeting for three hours to file a four-paragraph recitation of events will be worthless in 2020. Consumers and competition will demand much, much more, and in fact will be able to virtually attend such a meeting themselves.” That can be as simple as putting up a podcast. I’ve been arguing, to no end, that local news organizations should be getting neighbors to go record and podcast every town meeting.

Dave says that competition will be fierce and there will be winners — among them consumers who get more and better information — but “newspaper companies are very likely not to be winners.” I hit that same idea in my essay, saying that there’s no reason whatsoever to believe that the incumbents will be the survivors.

  • Working in newspaper advertising, it is alarming the absolute resistance to change that most newspaper employ. The declining circulation numbers is evident, and stubborn publishers continue to raise rates while circulation continues to decline. They instead create more print niche publications to water down an already soupy market.

    There is a need for newspapers, but there must be more interactive methods employed to help it survive.

  • This is where Google is a threat to newspapers: in targeted and local advertising. …Google is making its fortune beating us to giving better service to the advertisers that should be ours…

    Spot on. That’s where the battleground is; that’s the fight that needs to be won… And does Google have a trusted, local ad rep pounding the streets, working his old ‘newspaper’ beat – only not for the benefit of a print press, but for a 2020 medium?

    Drill down to a local level and get out there – hit the road with your ad rep – and that’s another question: do local advertisers actually want to be Google’s? Or, as it stands, do they think there’s no real alternative?

    They’re just as confused as the rest of us; they want to find a local answer to their advertising and marketing needs; they want to know what their money’s getting; where – exactly – their ads are going.

    The person they trust more than anyone is their newspaper ad rep; the person they’ve dealt with for the last 25 years; he’s the one to hold their hand; he’s the one to take them across to the ‘other side’; to where, fingers crossed, a trusted local journalist is waiting to greet him.

  • And where in all this mix does that leave journalists? Will there be large enough advertising revenues in the new cyber newsrooms to support sizable reporting staffs or is citizen journalism, blogging and the like going to run off the unbiased and unfettered?

    If they all make the leap to PR like I did, who am I going to pitch stories to?

  • I read your essay. It is great. I cannot agree more.

    If I can give my two cents, I would insist that the role of a newspaper is not only to deliver and organize content but also to offer SERVICES to its community of readers and advertisers. I like to speak about USEPAPER and USEORGANIZATION. Let’s be MORE USEFUL.

    Something that you don’t speak about and that I am facing in my daily work with news organizations is the lack of entrepreneurs in media companies. They desperately need ENTREPRENEURS. Great managers are not enough in a media world where CREATIVITY and ACTION are key.

    Once again, just my two cents.

    Jeff Mignon

  • sbw

    Way back in 1990, before the web blossomed, I won a contest in 1990 predicting Newspaper 2010 from an Editorial Point of View.

    Most telling line? “We learned long ago that whoever controls the index controls the future.”

    I don’t think I’d change a word. And only three more years to go.


  • Don

    Allow me one quibble with your otherwise excellent essay.

    It is a fool’s mission to predict the shape of technology tomorrow.

    “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay

    The students began to embrace the idea that many of them would likely be working independently – and not just as freelance contributors but as proprietors of their own minimedia.

    Working sans safety net makes people conquer fear and ultimately leads to self-actualization.

    And, yes, some gatherers of news will be amateurs: bloggers, vloggers, and whatever comes next.

    Shout outs to trolls and gadflies too. LOL.

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  • Jeff,

    You make some valid points but the economic argument ,the low advertising revenue on the internet compared to the printed version where premium prices could be charged,is the most important in this.

    This is the economic truth of the future.It is not only in newspapers that revenues are falling but mass communications technology has increased choice and driven prices down.The consumer is no longer prepared to pay premium rates for information,or products.

    What has ,I believe,kept the wolf from the door ,so to speak, is the lack of a suitable medium to replace the printed word.Yes people would prefer to go online and pay nothing for content.However we are not at the point where,everyone has access or there is an alternative.For example hand held readers.

    Once this point is reached,the industry has an important decision to make,charge for quality journalism or populate cyberspace with mass information and hope that enough people read it to attract advertisers

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  • This rambles a bit but I’m short on time…. Newspapers exist in their current form solely due to the inefficiencies of the old system. Once replaced online I think things will stabilize pretty fast. You’ll see incremental improvement for a few years but the system managing news in 2100 will probably be pretty similar to what we have in 2020, because we’re still going to have the internet in 2100. I think we’ll have the basic tools in place by the end of next year at the latest and it will evolve incrementally from there.

    Instead of the printing press dictating the location of jounalists’ offices we’ll see aggregators and incubators. Think more evolved versions of Digg and Pajamas Media. It makes no sense for the publishers/aggregators to have more than a passing relationship with journalists. Incubators might be non-profit sponsored collaboratives like VoiceOfSanDiego. Journalists are going to need paychecks and groups of journalists would probably save money if they pooled resources. Journalists of the future might be organized into something like bands of musicians, with leaders, video gurus, specialists, etc.

    In a big picture sense I think we’re about to see a one time shift from a non-free market for news(due to a lack of technology) to a free market for news (aggregators). Technology allows the transition but it’s ultimately about good writing and good journalism.

    Communities will evolve around elegantly organized aggregators.
    “They will point to what others do well and save the expense of doing it themselves. They will do what they so best so others will link to them.” I’m not sold on this idea. They won’t need to link to each other if the aggregators are elegant, and if they’re competing then I wouldn’t expect that anyway.

    Can’t say much about advertising (NDAed) but I have a funny feeling journalists of the future won’t be starving, at least the good journalists.

    The newspaper dispenser of the future is going to be a big laser printer on the street corner and when you put in your $5 coin it’ll crank something completely up to date, with content from bloggers, journalists, essayists, and cartoonists. And if you log in it’ll be even more customized.

    “Sadly, I do not see enough innovation occurring inside the established companies”

    Jeff, If you want to know what this might look like drop me a line, I don’t think the investors would mind me demoing it for you. kirk –AT–

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