10 theses on the future of newspapers

February 14, 2012

Much has been written about the future of newspapers. Here my humble contribution:

  1. In a complex world people turn to trusted sources of information for news, analysis and comment, e.g. newspapers. 
  2. The unique value of a newspaper is its editorial staff (1). 
  3. The core competence of an editorial team is separating the relevant from the chaff and provide context. Simply put: Making sense of the world afar and close. 
  4. The result of journalistic work – articles, analysis and comment – is independent of the carrier medium (i.e. print, digital, spoken word, moving images). 
  5. An editorial team must cover a wide range of subjects to get to the heart of things and be able to provide context. Expert editorial teams on specific subjects complement a broad reporting approach. 
  6. A reader is interested only in a subset of topics covered; the limiting factors being time and interests. Corollary 1: A reader wants to select her topics of interest. Corollary 2: An ideal news offering is a collection of topics a reader chooses to follow. (2) 
  7. The reader expects each topic to be a continuously updated feed with factual reporting, analysis and comment. 
  8. The reader decides through which carrier medium or combination thereof she wants to receive her information. 
  9. The digital world is not something fundamentally new; the digital world only exacerbates this trend: In the digital world where news is abundant, the key factor is attention (Contrary to the physical world where scarcity is the limiting factor – 3). 
  10. There will always be people willing to pay for attention. Either pay someone for organizing a limited amount of available attention or someone pays for access to attention.

Obviously we’re working hard to make this vision happen. Stay tuned.

Notes:

(1) It is total nonsense to differentiate between a print and a online editorial team. It’s one news reporting organization regardless of output channel.

(2) A reader’s preferred subset is most likely not corresponding to the traditional sectioning of a newspaper in Politics (World, Home), Business, Arts, etc. Example: Reporting on the Euro crisis could be found in newspapers such as the NZZ, SZ, FAZ, Spiegel, NYT in the politics, business and feuilleton sections. The topic of interest though is euro crisis. So why not simply offering exactly that: A follow-a-topic function allowing a reader to find everything relevant on say the euro crisis under that heading. And so it goes for every topic.

(3) In a sea of (digital) abundance it’s the attention that counts, as Michael Goldhaber pointed out in 1997. That is, in a sea of abundant ‘information’ on any event, with you having only so much attention to devote, you most likely turn to a trusted source of information for reporting and contextualization.