My Dad is a journalist. Since a young age, I was exposed to typewriters, printing presses and the smell of fresh ink. Back in the early 70′s, newspaper production was a difficult cycle that took a lot of effort and manual labor.
What hasn’t changed from those years is the need for professional, thought-provoking and unique content. Providing this content should be the focus of the newspaper industry.
The new distribution model
Fred Wilson had a link to a slide from Edward Roussel, Telegraph Media Group’s digital editor, where he wrote “Digital reduces costs by up to 65%”.
The Guardian, another British newspaper, made news as well after they enabled their feeds to contain the full content of each article, taking distribution out of the equation. The Christian Science Monitor, a one hundred year old publication, is also stopping its paper edition, moving to an almost-all digital distribution model.
The challenge with all this of course is monetization. Suddenly newspapers are on the same playing field as bloggers are. Rupert Mourdoch mentioned on a speech this past Sunday titled “The Future of Newspapers: Moving Beyond Dead Trees” (and reported by ReadWriteWeb) that his newly acquired Wall Street Journal “plans to offer three tiers of online content: free news, a subscriber-level service, and a third ‘premium service’ of reader-customizable ‘high-end financial news and analysis.”
A cross between TV and paper is not the way to go
Roussel has been pushing a revolutionary movement within the Telegraph, putting writers in charge of breaking news:
Under the new system, he said, big breaking news was placed in the hands of individual editors: ‘story owners’, who oversee regular updates, broadening of stories to include ‘added value’ multimedia and user-generated content, and analysis and opinion pieces.
The New York Times has also been very aggresive exploring multimedia to support their reporting. They’ve been offering a home-grown video section and their reporters have been trained to carry videocameras to acquire this content.
I am not 100% sold on this approach, as I personally believe video to be a self-contained method of delivering news. If I have a new article with a video to support it, I’m not inclined at all to consume it. However, if I’m on CNN, I am more inclined to see a video than to read the summary article.
The issue of quality
In this fast moving world, newspapers have to become bloggers in their hearts and old media corporations in their quality. Editorially we need them to produce content that’s fact-checked and bring their power to channel the opinion of experts and influentials.
“Journalists are supposed to question those in power, whether politicians or doctors.” This comment left by documentary film producer Kevin P. Miller in a post by Sarah Perez, has to be a rule for the new era of newspapers.
Time is of the essence
Newspapers need to react and they need to react now. The growth in online advertising has slowed to a crawl but newspaper owners are, it seems, taking things slow. A reorganization will be necessary and jobs will be shed. But we can’t live in a world without the content beacons of newspapers.
Update: Seth Godin has a great blog post about the New York Times’ struggle.