Enough handwringing, let’s get down to business

What’s the future of news? What does the audience want? What will the dead-trees edition be able to do about either?

Lately, it seems like these questions are brought up by newspaper editors and journalism educators fraught with worry over what will become of their medium and of their readership. (And the children! Won’t somebody please think of the children?!)
They write editorials and cluck over how journalism students don’t read the newspaper anymore.

No, we don’t. We read more than that, we do it faster, and we do it at a level of depth that correlates to the amount of time or interest we have for the topic.

What’s far more fun, not to mention useful, is to get down to the research and conversations that are going to lead to real answers.

So enough whining — let’s get to work on brewing up a new business model for the news. Try to lead the experiments instead of following the leaders online all the time. And don’t be afraid of the answers to all those worrisome questions.

For your pleasure reading today, you might take a look at the following:

  • Can the Newspaper Industry Stare Disruption in the Face? – In Nieman Reports, Scott Anthony and Clark Gilbert take a look at the how the newspaper business can keep from being bled dry by the chupacabras of disruptive technology currently nipping at its heels.

    “Too many newspaper companies have replicated their print models online, relying on display advertisements and classifieds, instead of creating new business models. A recent study showed that as few as 10 percent of top print advertisers are top online advertisers in newspaper Web sites.”

  • What does your newspaper’s Integrated Audience look like? We’re talking print-Web integration, here. Scarborough Research released a study (PDF) this week that ranked papers based on their combined print and online market penetration. No suprpise to see The Washington Post at the top, but the San Diego Union-Tribune and St. Louis Post-Dispatch at 2 and 3 aren’t necessarily the first names that jump to your lips, are they? More on the study from E & P. Jemima Kiss at paidContent has some highlights, including this takeaway:

    “The need to understand the distinctiveness of web content is also important. Hyde Post, VP-Internet, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, lists four key audience drivers: urgency, utility, visual energy and community interaction – which is about the most concise and compelling summary of effective web content I’ve read.”

  • Meanwhile, Jay Small tries to reconcile those two pieces of research, and he’s worried about how newspaper execs might read that second one.

    “Establishing mindshare for the Internet as a growth opportunity is not the same thing as consolidating your Internet development, operations, marketing and sales arms into the corresponding printside organizations. But I’ll bet a lot of publishers who read ‘integration of the Web site into the core newspaper business’ think the latter, not the former. And for those publishers who already folded online into offline, whether hoping for innovative outcomes or, more likely, cutting costs, I guess they could look at the Scarborough report and infer a rationale for their decisions.”

    Did you get that, folks? Just because you can meld your print and online staffs into one big happy understaffed newsroom doesn’t mean you should. Oh, by the way, Small is the director of online audience and operations for Scripps newspapers. You may have heard of them.

And now, here’s what you really should be worried about: David Weinberger, Jay Rosen (only in spirit), Dan Gillmor, Mike Davidson of Newsvine, and Jay Adelson from Digg all in the same room talking about the future of news.

In the beginning, newspapers competed with each other, racing to scoop the crosstown rival on the hot breaking news.

After the (still-ongoing) mergers of the last 30 years, newspapers turned their competitive guts toward rival mediums, trying to keep up with local and cable TV, the 24-hours news cycle, and then the continuous updating of online news.

Now that newspapers can shoot, edit, and post video, audio, and text updates nearly as fast as anyone else, they’ve arrived at the next frontier of competition: The Readers.

So how are you going to approach this problem? Are you going to beat your audience to the story, or are you going to compete with your rivals to print their story? Give your readers the attention they deserve, and maybe they’ll be writing for you someday, instead of themselves.

3 Replies to “Enough handwringing, let’s get down to business”

  1. Ryan: Actually I wasn’t there. Well, maybe in spirit. It was another Jay that Weinberger kept referring to in his notes. I did however link to his post at my new post, an update onNewAssignment.Net, which is worth your time since it follows up on that networked journalism piece you did. Click my name for it. Cheers.

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