Critical Thinking: What Will the Newspaper Industry Look Like In 10 Years?

By: Heidi Kulicke

Q:  What do you anticipate the newspaper industry to look like in 10 years, and how can newspapers prepare for continued change?    

Jennifer Holton, 21, senior in communications at John Carroll University in Ohio  
Holton graduates in May and hopes to write for a magazine or become a television anchor. She has worked with ABC affiliate WEWS-TV5 and was the first social media intern for Cleveland Magazine. She is the managing editor of her college newspaper, The Carroll News.  

A:  The story of the newspaper industry is like a novel with an unwritten ending. However, many people — whether they’re in the industry or not — claim the story will soon come to a devastating end. I beg to differ. Many may equate a decade with the newspaper industry apocalypse, but I believe the industry will be afloat in 10 years, having made drastic changes.

A decade from now, newspapers will have adapted to social media and use it to their advantage. It’s not likely that social media and online news pages will ever kill newspapers, because society needs a tangible constant for providing news, and that’s a printed publication. The Internet is changing so often that it could never offer that.

It’s inevitable that all news content available online will cost a pretty penny within the next 10 years, no longer giving the Internet the upper hand in cost-effectiveness for the consumer. Newspapers will be charging for subscription services on all tablets to gain tech-savvy subscribers. Local newspapers will continue to struggle the most, yet big-name newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times will survive easily. Newspapers can prepare themselves for a media landscape that is changing at a faster rate than ever by constantly staying on top of the changes. Newspapers must create more appealing layouts to keep readers interested in each issue.

Most importantly, the industry will have to learn how to use social media outlets to complement their publications, so that online content is not simply regurgitated articles from the printed newspaper. There is no end in sight for social media, and newspapers jumping on that bandwagon will keep them on the road to stability.

John Mura, 57, multimedia manager, The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY).  
Mura is an award-winning reporter and senior editor and now oversees Courier-Journal.com. He has worked for Times-Mirror Co. and Gannett, and is incoming president of Kentucky Press Association.  

A:  A decade from now, the newspaper industry will certainly reach fewer subscribers with its print product, but it will almost certainly have figured out how to earn substantial profits from digital. The concept of “newspaper of record” will give way to reporting beats tied to unique, saleable content and discerned community needs.   The “one size fits all” online newspaper will evolve to niche digital products that will reach smaller but highly targeted audiences on multiple platforms.

I can see reporters continuing to find and break stories, but also, through the interaction afforded by digital, become “thought leaders” in areas of interest that are less defined by geography and more by commonality. These reporters will write fewer traditional stories but will increasingly lead digital communities in subjects in which they’ve developed an expertise, using conversation, analysis, and digital community interaction.

So how can newspapers prepare to grow in an environment of constant change? Perhaps by first becoming better at managing change. By identifying what it is that makes each an essential purchase by our customers and by adapting that to new markets and platforms. By identifying and training the next generation of highly skilled journalists to do jobs that may not even exist yet. By having a well-thought-out plan of where the organization is headed and communicating this effectively. By putting many more resources into innovation and by investing dollars in the technology that can show customers that “old media” is becoming new again.

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Published: October 26, 2011

2 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: What Will the Newspaper Industry Look Like In 10 Years?

  • October 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm
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    Perhaps the most important role in which newspapers must evolve, and one not explicitly mentioned here, is that of maintaining and enforcing government accountability. All kinds of content are being called “news” these days, and if (as Mura suggests) currently valid journalists separate into niche-based communities, the audience for journalism will fragment and the watchdog function will lose its punch. Even if an individual journalist builds his community around government accountability, only his fragment of the community will be involved in it. IMHO, only a network of multifunctional journalists, guided by the vision of a primary editor and serving a commingled audience, has a chance of fulfilling the watchdog role effectively.

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  • October 26, 2011 at 10:40 pm
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    Early last century, Mr. Vanderbilt’s railroads transported 90% of the freight in the US the year Henry Ford started making trucks, earning Mr. Vanderbilt a huge fortune. Today, trucks transport 90% of the freight in the US. The railroad magnets power is long gone. The transportation industry changed drastically. Turn the page to the beginning of this century. Newspapers and phone directories were virtually licenses to print money for their owners, like railroads a century before. Any daily newspaper in the top 100 US markets could have easily purchased Google when they started and made their founders wealthy. Just as Mr. Vanderbilt could have purchased Ford Motor Company for a lot less money a century earlier, compared to the devastation the trucking industry inflicted on rail road freight sales. Every daily newspaper had much greater financial and intellectual resources than internet startups, as well as long term relationships with all the advertisers. In less than a decade, huge percentages of revenue in high profit sectors of newspapers, Automotive, Employment and Real Estate have left the newspapers for the internet. Retail and entertainment are following close behind as well. Major sources of revenue to support the news gathering function evaporating quickly. On the other side of the equation, subscriptions are dropping at double digit rates annually. A newspaperman recently told me, “every time I see a funeral go by, I think to myself, there goes another subscriber.” Newspapers have been at the front line of the digital revolution, and have not been able to monetize their digital properties adequately enough to support their news gathering function. While not only competing with the internet, but high speed communication capabilities that has spawned numerous, 24 hour a day 7 day a week TV news networks and the radio is still there too. News is available in real time and on mobile devises! Major daily newspapers are crumbling as I type. Numerous daily papers have gone out of business while others have discontinued delivering a printed paper, like the Detroit Free Press. Why? Younger consumers have been raised with the expectation of immediacy. I and my predecessors could and would wait until morning for our ritual of news gathering, just as we would wait for other things in life. We created just in time manufacturing and just in time children who have grown up now and are just in time consumers of information and products. When they want something, they want it now and businesses have stepped up to deliver those products immediately like the market demands. Whether it is news or clothes. I think the newspaper industry is like a giant dinosaur with a huge target on the side of it. Will it be extinct in a decade? Maybe or at least, it will be a shadow of its former self, as all things digital change faster than imaginable. Today’s social media darlings may be sitting next to the newspapers, like My Space compared to Facebook. Today’s glory doesn’t guarantee it will be the future pony communications rides on the back of. There is probably a couple young geeks playing with their Droids right now, taking them apart, physically and digitally, and envisioning what they can turn it into tomorrow that will be so cool everyone will have it in a couple months.

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