The Future of News: Dead Papers, Living Journalism

photo of newspaper displayI remember when I first moved to the States from the recession-blessed Ireland of the late 80s. On my first Sunday there, I went out to buy the paper, the Boston Sunday Globe.

Chuckling to myself, I walked back because the newspaper was in a carrier bag. And it was huge! Single sections — jobs, cars, sports, etc., — were three or four times as thick as any Irish paper I had seen before.

As a newly arrived reporter looking for work, it was a great sign. Business seemed to be booming. And local papers were everywhere, even daily ones. But on my most recent visit back, the physical Boston Globe only appeared to be a shadow of it former self.

While the internet has certainly disrupted the traditional newspaper business model, John Dvorak thinks the decline was started by accountants in the 1970s when they started cutting costs by replacing reporters, who produced original content, with syndicated news.

That worked up to a point. But the internet dealt a fatal double blow: Lucrative classified advertising was sucked off by free or specialist websites. And readers got the same syndicated content on the web a day before the paper came out.

So Is The End Nigh?

Yes and no, according to a panel at the recent Dublin Web Summit (@dublinwebsummit). Moderated by Ben Rooney (@benjrooney), technology editor at the Wall Street Journal, the panel consisted of Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) of the New York Times, Nick Bell (@nickbelluk) of News International, and Mark Little (@marklittlenews) of Irish startup, Storyful.

Although print isn’t dead, Bilton, the NYT’s senior technology writer, said he doesn’t read a physical newspaper any more. He also questioned the way in which news organizations gather material. A press conference with 200 reporters, who will most likely report the same thing, is overkill.

Bell, Head of Technology at N.I. — parent of British titles, The Sun, The Times, the disgraced and now-shuttered News of the World — said the issue was less about print and more about the quality of journalism. “We’re really excited about tablets and smartphone devices,” he said. iPad owners are typically high earners, he said. But he was anticipating more digital readership after the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

Little, founder of Storyful and formerly of Irish government broadcaster RTÉ, took a very optimistic tack. We are in a “golden age” of journalism, he said. However, he acknowledged the difficulties faced by print media. “The more they move towards digital, the more they undermine their [business] model,” he said.

The internet and the advent of social media has allowed Storyful to explore new ways of spreading news. Noting that journalism has moved, in less than a generation, from a scarcity to a deluge of information, Storyful‘s concept has been to find ways of curating relevant facts.

Citing the social aspect, Bilton said he now has conversations with readers. Preparing for interviews, he tweets and asks for suggested questions to ask. “It’s no longer a one-way street,” he said. It has also democratized life. “It used to be: Don’t piss off anyone who buys ink by the barrel. Now it’s: Don’t piss off anyone with more than 1,000 Twitter followers.”

Asked about the widespread use of blogs and micro-blogging sites, the panelists were sanguine. “There’s never been a better mechanism of spreading hoaxes than the internet,” Little noted. Nor has there ever been a better way to fact check, he added. The key is to tap in to that desire for quality journalism, he said.

Addressing the trust issue of internet journalism, Bilton said, “Newspapers have a section called ‘corrections’ because we F up all the time.”

The old business model, Rooney joked, was that people “came for the crossword, but stayed for the war crime.” Little said new subscription models are a challenge but he drew inspiration from bottled water. People pay for something that comes free from any tap.

On the future, Little predicted sites where people will build “playlists” of news, opinions and interests that they will share. And on future of newspapers, he wondered at this point if it is not like “talking about mobile phones and the future of the phone box.”

As for how the new generation views traditional media, check out the video below.

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes on Flickr.

One thought on “The Future of News: Dead Papers, Living Journalism

  1. Pingback: John P. Muldoon » News From Noise

Comments are closed.