The Real Future Of Newspapers
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 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 always something to be 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. 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. In fact, providing different takes on news and issues so that you can form your own opinion is one of the best services that newspapers offer.
And, try as they might and profess as they do, very rarely do these papers have 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. We trust the stories we read in these papers 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 professional journalists who can truly uncover the ins and outs 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 who may do stories for one another, or create mutually beneficial partnerships. If I were The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal, I would start creating a network of approved bloggers to 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; that's where the revenue still comes from in newspapers.
For every article about the future of newspapers, you'll find another that predicts their death. If I've learned anything as I get older, though, it's that nothing ever really dies in media, and idealistic stances are rarely right in the long run. Evolution is the name of the game. Though it's clear that newspapers have a ways to go to become profitable once again, there is a path (actually two) to follow. It will take strong leaders with a bold vision to make it happen.
Here's hoping they get it right!