The newspaper, as it is defined today, offers two distinct services. It offers local information and it offers news. The newspaper, as it is defined today, has no future to speak of, but the newspaper of tomorrow does if we examine these two divergent paths and follow them to a possible conclusion.
The newspaper of tomorrow is going to break down into two distinct paths and only one of them includes paper of any form. Local information is always of value and this is the form that printed versions will likely take. In New York City we already see this happening with the Metro and other papers that are handed out to subway riders at no cost. These papers portray themselves as news, but they are not as robust or as well editorialized in their news coverage as the longer running and more established papers of the area. They do, however, offer wide reach, strong circulation and an outlet for local businesses to advertise to a specific audience. In the future that I see, I would imagine these papers focusing their content and advertising 100% on localized business and the immediate vicinity of the reader. Locally targeted advertising is big business and local readers will read a paper when they see value. Though mobile services like WHERE and Yelp offer local information, there is and always be something said for the tactile experience of holding a paper and ripping out local content of value. I don’t see the printed form becoming extinct anytime soon, but I do see it evolving in this way.
The second path that newspapers will follow is that of a trusted, credible source for the news and related editorial that can be distributed through digital methods and syndicated wherever the reader might be. One of the great things about news is hearing the different sides and different takes so that you can form your opinion and this is one of the best services that newspapers offer. From The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal down to The San Francisco Chronicle and The Times Union in Albany, newspapers offer an outlet for opinion as well as the news. Try as they might and profess as they do, very rarely do these papers offer a 100% objective point of view. They typically offer a slightly left or right leaning insight when they report the news and I think this is ok. You read these papers as much for the news as for their opinion and regardless of what bloggers say and media pundits think, these news sources are very credible. We trust what we read from these people because we know that, opinions aside, they are reported by journalists and not just by bloggers with a high school degree and a chip on their shoulder. Blogs may very well get the scoops, but newspapers get the professionals and there will always something said for professional journalists and their ability to truly uncover the in’s and out’s of a story. It’s a matter of trust and I trust these folks!
The future of newspapers may also overlap with those of the blogosphere. The best bloggers may be journalists in their own right and they may do stories for one another, or create partnerships which are mutually beneficial. If I were The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal I would start creating a network of approved bloggers that we reciprocate content with because that kind of relationship would bring instant credibility to the blogger and access to scoops and editorial that those old stalwarts of publishing could use! If you can distribute your stories through a network such as this, then you can generate eyeballs and that is where the revenue still comes from in newspapers.
For every article about the future of newspapers you’ll find another that predicts the death of the newspaper, but if I’ve learned anything as I get older it’s that nothing ever really dies in media and that idealistic stances are rarely right in the long run. Evolution is the name of the game and though it is quite clear that newspapers have a ways to go to become profitable once again, there is a path (actually two) and it takes a strong leader with a bold vision to make it happen.
Here’s to hoping they get it right!