What Will The Metro Newspaper Look Like In 2020?

  • by , Featured Contributor, August 30, 2007
As part of a Newspaper Association of America (NAA) visioning project where a number of folks related to the industry have been recruited to try to imagine and describe what U.S. newspapers will be like in 2020, I am writing an essay. My specific task is to focus on metro newspapers, those based in the country's largest metropolitan markets. As I am in the process of finishing up the essay, I thought that I would use today's column to test some of the themes that I intend to present. Basically, this is my trail balloon. Please feel free to take some shots at it in the comments section. I would appreciate the help and the broader perspective of all Spin readers.

First, I don't think that I am going to use the newspaper metaphor for describing what consumers will receive in 2020. By then, I very much doubt that folks in major metropolitan markets in the U.S. will wake up daily to the sound of print newspapers hitting their doorstep. The metro newspaper as we know it will not exist in large markets, and will probably not exist in the same way in many smaller markets as well. However, I do believe that there will be many large and very robust local news, information and advertising media products; probably, in fact, many, many more of them than we have today, particularly in large metro markets.



Second, I think that certain realities will govern these new products -- our new newspapers of the future. Here are some of my "realities" for 2020:

  • All media will be digital. There may still be some analog components in the supply chains of media companies, but analog will be a very small part of the business. We have heard for years that the advent of computers would mean a paperless office -- which never happened, because computers gave us more stuff to print out and read. Still, I do believe that we will have virtually no paper-based media products in 2020. There have been great advances in the development of digital, paper-like materials that are readable and can connect to digital networks; most important, I believe that the eco-consciousness that we are beginning to see is here to stay. We won't have paper because it is a very expensive and wasteful way to deliver news and information.

  • Consumer attention will continue to fragment. Our news and information products won't be large, comprehensive and "averaged" for mass consumption as they are today in a newspaper. Consumers will get best-of-breed information services from many different providers.

  • There will be many, many different digital media devices. Many of these devices will be portable; all will be networked; some will support lean-forward usage while others support lean-back usage. Many will be ambient and stay in the background most of the time. They will also be open, so distribution lock-in won't be an option for information and entertainment providers. And most devices will permit users to communicate and create, not just consume.

  • Media brands will matter -- but old brands will matter less. Consider how fast Yahoo and Google were able to build well-known, trusted brands.

  • News and information applications and services will be more important than underlying data and news. Deditit synthesizing, analyzing news and information and advertising is what will attract and retain consumers. Sending someone to a city council meeting for three hours to file a four-paragraph recitation of events will be worthless in 2020. Consumers and competition will demand much, much more, and in fact will be able to virtually attend such a meeting themselves.

  • Competition will be fierce, particularly in large metro markers. In a world where digital distribution is low to start and cheap to expand, the barriers to entry that have benefited newspapers for many decades won't exist in 2020. The competition in the local news, information and advertising business will be fierce.

  • There will be lots of winners. Consumers will be the big winners. They will get more, better, more diverse and much more accurate news, information and advertising than they receive today. Advertisers will also win. They will pay much less to reach their target consumers, with more relevant messages and offers than they can provide through today's analog media channels.

  • Newspaper companies are very likely not to be winners. The characteristics of the companies that will win in 2020 are very different than the characteristics of newspaper companies today.

What do you think?

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