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

  1. The list is so basic…but so relevant because far too many newspapers have yet to really grasp many of the things you’ve highlighted.

    As a former journalist, the items that resonated are smaller newsrooms and multi-faceted reporters. Any journalist who can’t get their head around the fact they will have to write, podcast, blog and do videos has no clue what’s coming down the pike pretty soon.

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  2. Great work Ryan,

    I particually liked No’s 7 and 9,but most of all let’s stay pptimistic, there is a great deal of good work being done in newspapers.

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  3. […] Invisible Inkling » 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your h… Une bonne petite liste de 10 faits que les responsables de presse devrait se mettre en tête pour faire un peu plus que leur business as usual. Rien de novateur, juste une règle de communication : répétez le message. (tags: journalism journal media newspaper future) […]

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  4. This is all spot-on, Ryan, kudos on this. I certainly hope more j-schools hear you on #8 and #9, too many of my peers are not getting enough training on the new skills they need to know. Sometimes it felt like my professors were still stuck in the last century, never mentioning the web or digital media. That’s simply not acceptable.

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  5. Right on target and not just for newspapers but the entire media landscape, especially the “glass half empty v half full”…WAY too much time spent complaining and not enough time spent recognizing that knock is opportunity calling.

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  6. Don’t charge for archives; don’t charge
    for daily news. What the heck are we suppose to charge for, and how can we fairly compensate those reporters you want more from?

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  7. I think one of the biggest problems we need to work out is how to finance these primary news sources that power much of the blogosphere.

    First-person journalism is essential to the larger world of blog commentary, but how do the primary news sources get compensated when their information isn’t tied directly to an advertising source?

    Semantic web technologies such as RSS are designed to uncouple informational content from page layout. As a newspaper, how do you run a half-page ad opposite a local news story when the text of the story has been stripped of all formatting and syndicated out to every corner of the web? How do you monitize text content in a world of fair-use quotes and online commentary?

    I suspect the answer is – you don’t. Instead of waging a slow death through walled gardens and subscription fees for text articles, newspapers should switch to multimedia news formats such as audio and video which will allow them to embed advertising directly into their content.

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  8. […] Invisible Inkling » 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your h… (tags: blogging ideas learning tools workflow journalism linkblog) Posted by gautamg on Monday, June 4, 2007, at 7:35 pm, and filed under Play. Follow any responses to this post with its comments RSS feed. You can post a comment or trackback from your blog. […]

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  9. i sense a tinge of anger. who exactly is this commanding list directed at? far as i can tell, plenty of media sources are scrambling to create a vision for their online futures. (and parenthetically, doing that takes a lot of time and energy when you’re still trying to put out the news every single day — a point you don’t bother to touch upon.) you seem to understand that what you’re saying is not groundbreaking, and so would love to know who/what specifically spurned this rather irate post…

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  10. In lieu of my promised “11th obvious thing” post, here are a few answers (mine) to questions (yours):

    Where, oh where, will we get the money to pay for all this if we don’t make readers pay to read the news?

    As always, advertising. Print ad revenue is falling and online ad revenue is climbing, but not enough to close the gap. We need to be more creative in the way we sell online advertising, and we need to start treating online ads as more than just an upsell from print.

    Why are you so angry?

    Hmm. Everyone reads the tone of my writing as they wish, of course, but if I’m “seething” as one person put it, it’s because I’ve been hearing and reading lots of “woe is me” around newspapers for the last week as news spread of staff cuts at the San Francisco Chronicle, cuts at the Los Angeles Times went into effect, Neil Henry’s piece blaming Google ran in the Chronicle, and on Friday rumors spread about possible staff cuts at the San Jose Mercury News.

    I’m just tired of hearing journalists complain about the state of the business while they sit on their hands not trying anything new.

    Meanwhile, I have a circle of online friends who are busting their asses in multimedia, interactivity, and data at papers of all sizes across the country, and I’d prefer their hard work didn’t go unnoticed by the folks too busy gazing at their navels.

    Why are you so U.S.-centric?

    I live in the U.S., was educated here, and work here. I study U.S. newspapers. I have plenty of friends from grad school who study international media, and I respect them greatly. If I had the time, I’d improve my Spanish and do some research on Venezuelan media and how events in Venezuela are covered by foreign reporters, including those from Reuters and the A.P. But I don’t have the time.

    If you question the relevance of this list to people from other countries, just read through the comments and trackbacks. My Japanese, German, and Portuguese aren’t that hot, but the people from the U.K. and Australia seem to dig it, so what can I say?

    Who in the newspaper business is listening?

    Well, I’m not just a “web hipster,” as one person put it, I work at a newspaper. And lots of the aforementioned friends who “get it” work at newspapers, too.

    So, journalists are listening. And they’re working hard to transfer the power of the press to the online medium.

    That’s our job.

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  11. As a print journalist trying to make his way, late in life it has to be said, in online journalism, I recognise a lot of the points made in the list. I am both blogger and “mainstream” journalist, trying my best to be objective about both activities, and this item on a friend/collaborator’s site explains how it all came about in my own case:
    http://www.craigmcginty.com/news/2007/05/colin_rnadall_j.html

    But what worries me a little is that there are still countless students out there, certainly in the UK and France and I imagine in north America too, who want to study journalism but for whom it is not easy to see an employed future. I am not optimistic about ever being able to earn a living from my own sites – they are of rather more value to me as a shop window for whatever “mainstream” commissioning editors think I can do for them. Others will do it better, of course, but is blogging ultimately to be just a time consuming hobby and/or loss leader (yes, and contributing to democratic process) or does it have a place in offering some kind of career to those students?

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  12. […] Invisible Inkling » 10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your h… A great list of challenges from Ryan. Loads of good comments as well. (tags: blogs design future google internet journalism media multimedia newspaper) […]

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  13. When newspapers open themselves up online to reader-submitted content (primarily comments), what commitment to they typically make to keeping said content?
    (rather than treating it as, well, fishwrap, of no lasting value)

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  14. Hi, not sure I fully agree with point 7. Sadly a lot of bloggers are semi-literate and too many are concerned with shock value, and not greatly concerned with facts or fact checking. Does anyone know how many bloggers read newspapers? I don’t buy that bloggers are a paper’s readrers
    Also, re. Jeffery Henderson’s comments above – take a look at the Guardian’s website – it’s mainstream and incredibly well-linked, with one of the best blogs (Comment is free) of its kind.

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  15. People keep forgetting that blind people might like to read the news too. Many sites have text which screen readers can’t convert to speech. Others are so loaded with graphics that it takes a long time to load. There are still papers which make it difficult to search for the news by topic or by keyword. I’m glad that Google at least has a search function like that. Many web pages have security codes which screen readers can’t interpret. Why can’t the webmaster put an audio clip so blind readers can hear the letters and numbers which need to be entered into the edit box? Ads also should be to-the-point and not manipulative. All I want to know is what the product is and why it might help me.

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  16. Nicely argued. I would just add, as an eleventh point or expansion of your “local” point, that newspapers could add so much value to their communities by writing decent obituaries. Perhaps I am sensitized by living in LA, but the LA Times, with rapidly declining circulation, only prints obits of actors, celebrities and politicians (and soldiers killed in Iraq). I believe that a long-standing adage of the newspaper business is that “people like to read about themselves.” A decent obituary page is or will become a rich source of local history. I concede that most obituaries are written by the family, but the NYT is an example of how it can be done.

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  17. I’m sorry, but the idea that modern reporters actually do fact checking is ludicrous. I’m a trained librarian and can usually blow holes in a good portion of so-called “news” stories in most reporter’s stories.

    I have a good friend who was a successful local reporter in the 1970s and 1980s who kept trying to tell me how good the vetting of stories are. I finally got her to admit that is something of the past.

    At best, the education of the average reporter or editor is now shown to be lacking in history, science, statistics, home economics, politics, etc. A cursory check of respected sources can quickly show that the average news story is sadly lacking. Even the well-respected NPR and PBS have allowed stories with nonsense lines such as “in the first time in history” when it was blatantly untrue. Just because something happened before 1900 doesn’t mean it never happened!

    Breadth of education is lacking in the majority of reporters. My husband has gotten to the point where he turns off the news if they start spouting nonsense – or distracting me if I’m yelling at the computer screen due to idiocy. Of course, the “paper of record” was never really accurate to begin with, they bought into yellow journalism as much as anyone – but I have my doubts that most of your readers even know the term if they are journalism school graduates.

    Pax,

    MLO

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  18. […] every new technology that comes into view on the horizon […]’ advices a list of the `10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head‘ and closes: `So let’s stop writing and groaning about how things used to be different, […]

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  19. It’s interesting to watch so many people shout at the captain, so to speak, as the ship goes down, on just how he sank the ship and what an effing idiot he is. These are all good ideas here … and ideas newspapers are currently adapting. There’s nothing Earth shattering here and nothing new. And nothing surprising either in hearing yet another blogger scream (with a long tail of other bloggers screaming “right on!”) about how they have all the answers and newspaper editors and writers are completely clueless.
    Frankly, I’d like to see a lot of y’all blowhards get out and get your hands inky. You have all the answers? Start chipping in! Nothing worse than a loud-mouthed know-it-all flapping his gums from his armchair. Sit down, shut up and get to work like the rest of us instead of trying to curse the people struggling to figure out a new business model.

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  20. I’m looking forward to the day when medicine follows journalism. It’s very early yet, but we’re seeing the beginning of major changes in how medical information is managed and distributed. Good thing too!

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