10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head

  1. It’s not Google’s fault. Get over it, professor. Blaming search engines is like blaming the library. “Oh no, please don’t let readers actually find stories from my newspaper and then click through to my site to read them, anything but that!” Forget it.
  2. It’s not Craig’s fault. Newspaper classifieds suck and they have for years. Either develop simple database applications with photos and maps to let your users actually find what they’re looking for, or partner with a good third-party vertical who can. Anything less is a waste of your time.
  3. Your major metro newspaper could probably use some staff cuts. If you’re not writing about local news, your paper’s readers are probably getting what you do from somewhere else. Get over it. CNN and ESPN are not new, and nytimes.com wasn’t far behind. Write local. There are plenty of cooks and painters and poets in your neighborhood. Go out and meet them.
  4. It’s time to stop handwringing and start training. If your editors are still writing navelgazers about the cataclysmic changes in the business instead of starting training programs to teach some new tricks to you and that guy in the cubicle next door, that’s a problem. Stop whining and move on.
  5. You don’t get to charge people for archives and you certainly don’t want to charge people for daily news content. Pulling your copy behind walls where it can’t be seen by readers on the wider Web. Search rules. Don’t hide from it.
  6. Reporters need to do more than write. The new world calls for a new skillset, and you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot.
  7. Bloggers aren’t an uneducated lynch mob unconcerned by facts. They’re your readers and your neighbors and if you play your cards right, your sources and your community moderators. If you really play it right, bloggers are the leaders of your networked reporting projects. Get over the whole bloggers vs. journalists thing, which has been pretty much settled since long before you stopped calling it a “Web blog” in your stories.
  8. You ignore new delivery systems at your own peril. RSS, SMS, iPhone, e-paper, Blackberry, widgets, podcasts, vlogs, Facebook, Twitter — these aren’t the competition, these are your new carriers. Learn how to deliver your content across every new technology that comes into view on the horizon, and be there when new devices go into mass production.
  9. J-schools can either play a critical role in training the next generation of journalists, or they can fade into irrelevancy. Teach multimedia, interactivity and data, or watch your students become frustrated and puzzled as they try to get jobs with five clips and a smile.
  10. Okay, here comes the big one: THE GLASS IS HALF FULL. There is excellent work being done in the new world of online journalism and it’s being done at newspapers like the Washington Post and the Lawrence Journal-World and the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Petersburg Times and the Bakersfield Californian and all sorts of papers of all sizes. You don’t need millions of dollars or HD cameras or years of training to make it happen; all you need is the right frame of mind. So let’s stop writing and groaning about how things used to be different, and let’s start building our own piece of the new world of newspapers brick by brick, story by story.

[NOTE: This post was published in June 2007.  For an update on how newspapers are doing at these 10 things, check out the update, circa June 2008.]

143 Replies to “10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head”

  1. @Mindy McAdams – I completely agree.

    Back in the day, my little bitty hometown newspaper had a feature called “Speak Out” where local residents could call into a voicemail and air their concerns – the messages were then printed in the Wednesday edition of the paper. It was so popular, they made it a daily feature, and it was the first place we all turned to when we read the paper each day.

  2. If i can add, point 9.5 Teach business! I’m not talking MBA, but students need to know the value of their work, what to charge for it and how to get paid! The skill set journalism schools teach are highly marketable in the freelance world as well. Be it selling a story to a media org, or telling a compelling stories that illustrate a companies impact/ product etc.

  3. The controversy is all about delivery. We’ll probably soon be in a society that doesn’t eat millions of trees a day to deliver news. But that doesn’t mean we won’t need good journalism. Cronkite is right — it’s all about democracy. It drives me nuts, though, to see drivel presented as news and facts distorted to control public opinion.

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