The Future Is Now at Nawlins Confab

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By: Graham Webster

How journalism will look in the future ? and how newspapers will stay in business in the meantime ? will be prime concerns at this year’s Editor & Publisher/Mediaweek Interactive Media Conference and Trade Show in New Orleans from June 7 to 9.

“Newspapers will last a very long time, because people enjoy the medium itself,” says Jim Taylor, a futurist scheduled to give the opening keynote. But he then cites a study of young people 13 to 24 that he plans to present at the conference, warning, “they don’t read newspapers. Period. Full stop.”

So Taylor’s “very long time” might not be as long as some had hoped. With this in mind, some panelists at the conference have new ideas for the delivery of the newspaper’s traditional product: deeply researched journalism.

The key, some say, is to pay attention to who is in your market and how they want their news. “I’m not into going after a young audience for a young audience’s sake,” says Howard Owens, director of new media at the Ventura County (Calif.) Star. “I think you have to look at your own market.” Owens thinks young people might grow interested in hard news, like any other generation, giving newspapers time to prepare for the new generation to come of age.

“Traditionally, as people get older, they develop an interest in their community,” he explains. “They don’t necessarily become newspaper readers. We need to be prepared to deliver news for today’s young person, and how they will want it 10 years from now ? which I doubt will be the traditional newspaper.”

In the meantime, newspapers and other online news sites can take advantage of new opportunities for advertising and marketing. Mitch Gelman, senior vice president and executive producer of CNN.com, sees an opportunity in advertising to people during the workday, for example.

While many newspapers are losing customers to free online classified services such as Craigslist, The Wall Street Journal finds that, as a national niche newspaper, the Web lets it sell online job ads to employers interested in “branding themselves as the employer of choice,” says Tony Lee, publisher of the Journal’s Online Vertical Network. But the same niche that gives the Journal an edge is also one of its biggest challenges, as the business world hopes for an improved economy. “From a job standpoint, focusing on the senior level, we’re real eager to see a turnaround,” he adds.

Another widely cited advantage is a Web site’s ability to keep track of individualized reader demographics, and target ads that fit visitors’ specific interests. Bill Flatley, vice president and chief advertising officer of Forbes.com, says advertisers can reach people by company size, job title, and other criteria. In addition to targeting, online advertising emphasizes ad response more than just branding. Although it’s still hard to track how people respond to brands they see in ads online, it’s easy to see how many click on the ad. Because of this, Flatley notes, Web sites have introduced new accountability to advertising, merging the disciplines of branding and response.

So how can newsrooms and Web teams deliver an audience for the ads? The key, according to Ron Stitt, vice president/Internet operations for ABC-owned stations, is to give people what they can’t get anywhere else, and to keep them coming back throughout the day. “The user should be able to come to our site and pretty quickly realize what the unique benefits of that site are,” Stitt says. “It probably means really showcasing what some people call ‘enterprise content,’ which is to say material that is really unique.”

Chris Jennewein, director of Internet operations for Union Tribune Publishing, which publishes the San Diego Union- Tribune, says the online business model has made progress in recent years. “Several years ago it was considered to be quite a feat to make a profit online,” he points out, adding that now the question is whether news organizations can make the online product the main moneymaker. Jennewein says staying up to date and engaging readers at the site could help make this possible: “I think the most important content idea remains breaking news, and a close second is encouraging reader interactivity.”

Martha L. Stone, director of IFRA Newsplex Training Worldwide at the University of South Carolina, plans to present “some very inexpensive technologies that give you a lot of bang for your buck.”

And it just wouldn’t be a new media conference without a panel on blogs. Joshua Jennings Moss, managing editor of FOXNews.com, weighed in before the opening bell: “We’ve gotten to a point where on any given day we’re responding to what other people are writing on blogs ? [sometimes] rather than actually doing our own reporting.” Moss, who will be on stage with at least one blogger, Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, says it’s a trend that “frankly, I’m a little leery about.”

Blogs and other citizen media present a challenge for traditional news sources, adds keynote presenter Michael Silver, director of emerging technologies for Tribune Co. “Increasingly in an atomized environment, consumers will have the ability to create packages on their own, which may separate the advertising we provide from the information we provide,” Silver says. “And we need to figure out ways to keep our content on the forefront as well as our advertising.”

This year’s “Eppy Awards” will be announced on June 9. Martin Nisenholtz, senior VP of digital operations at The New York Times Co., will receive the Outstanding Achievement Award.

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