The Many Possible Directions Of Future Media

By: Steve Outing

With so much technological change going on, it’s not easy to chart the future
direction of the media industry. As columnist for Editor & Publisher
(and other activities, including editing my own weekly newsletter), it’s been my
job to try to divine the trends.



But one person can’t match the power of the group. So recently, I asked the
assembled minds of the Online-News discussion list to make some guesses … ummm,
predictions about the future of media. Through private mail to me, and public
posts to the list, they came up with some fascinating insights.



I’m going to spend this week’s column providing excerpts and short summaries of
some of the best predictions, and append them with my own reactions. (My
comments are in italics below.) First, a quick disclaimer: The comments below
belong to the individuals, and do not necessarily represent the views of their
employers.



Someone’s got to start paying



Mark Choate, director of new media for the News & Observer (Raleigh,
N.C.): “It’s my opinion that the ‘free news content supported by paid
advertising’ model is one that isn’t working and I’m not sure if it will ever work. …
[On the Web] we have no truly viable way to charge for our content. … When you
look at the coming wireless world, you see an entirely different landscape. … Take
a look at how DoCoMo is actually making money on content. There is built-in
infrastructure for microtransactions such that charging a few cents for access to a
story is realistic. … Think about it: where do you read your newspaper? On the
plane, on your living room couch, at the breakfast table – even in your
bathroom. So the combination of portability, microtransactions, and information
about our readers can all combine into a truly viable means of distributing local
news. My prediction: free local news Web sites will soon be history.”



I think Choate is right about wireless content. (In fact, my previous column – published after Choate wrote the words
above – covers exactly this ground, suggesting that much more wireless
content will carry a price tag than does news content on the Web.) As to free news
Web sites going away, I think that they must remain free to survive at all (because
there’s so much competitive, similar content that is free). But many news sites will
begin producing unique, high-value content that will carry a price. This will be
content not currently found on news sites – possibly niche content that’s
narrower than what’s currently being produced.



Synching sucks; wireless rules!



Russell Shaw, journalist, InternetContent.net and Broadcasting
& Cable magazine (and author of several Internet-related books):
“With regard to e-books and other examples of wireless content (for news
consumption), there’s one more problem that no one talks about, but is a key
inhibitor to mass popularity. Ease of downloading new content. People don’t like
synching. … I say, with absolute certainty, that e-books and other mobile content
will never take off until they can be downloaded ‘over the air’ – that is, the
antenna goes up, you connect to the e-book site, you log on and either enter your
subscription or credit card info, and then the book comes to your reader via
wireless. I am talking about totally wireless.”



I think Shaw is absolutely correct. Wireless delivery of news content holds
great promise, and will be how many future consumers get their primary news
(rather than the wired Web or print). But as long as we’re in the current transition
phase, where you have to put your device (like PDAs and e-book reader tablets)
in a synching cradle attached to a computer, portable news-reading devices will
not become primary news consumption products. The technology must advance a
bit further. But when we can easily download current news into portable reading
devices, watch out. That changes everything.



There’s money in P2P



Robert Niles, independent Internet developer and online newspaper
employee: “I predict that someone’s gonna get rich combining the affiliate
sales model with micropayments and P2P (peer-to-peer). Imagine Napster, on a
micropayment system where a slice of each micropayment went to the person
from whose folder you were downloading the MP3. This kind of system allows
you to develop your customers into an effective retail distribution network for
your product: Syndicate your content to niche Web sites who can then distribute it
to their readers, earning you – and them – money with each
pageview. Perhaps the lure of making some money off micropayments might help
make people less resistant to them. Think of this as a perpetual rebate
program.”



I love hearing ideas like this. News publishers need to be thinking about how
to put P2P to work for them. In Niles’ example above, he mentions MP3 files.
Lots of newspaper Web sites are now experimenting with distributing local bands’
MP3 music. The affiliate sales model he proposes is an interesting possible future
extension of that.



Niles offers up another interesting prediction: “Too many old media
companies will continue to delay building the information infrastructure
necessary to support microband (quick hits of granular information). … How
many news organizations are actively collecting and electronically storing a wide
range of non-narrative news information? No-brainers include births, deaths,
police calls, fire runs, real estate transactions, and board of health citations. Most
major organizations only collect a few of these items, and then fail to consistently
publish them in an ordered database.



“That leaves the market open to potential competitors, who will learn to build
applications that work with the new systems that governments are building to
electronically store this information. And competitors who understand that readers
can do as much for us in creating and distributing our content as they can in
consuming it.”



Clearly, most news organizations have not yet adequately leveraged some of
the less glamorous (but nevertheless valuable) information and data that they
already publish. Take Niles’ advice and build databases where such content can be
turned into new revenue streams.



Hearing the newspaper while driving



Tom Kessler, director of consumer production, Yahoo!: “Watch
what the auto makers are doing. There is about to be widespread deployment of
Net connectivity into vehicles, and that experience will be key. How many more
people would actually read/listen to their morning paper during their relaxing one-
or two-hour drive into the office each day if it were possible?”



This is a really exciting technological trend. In a couple of years, commuters
will have the option of listening to whatever they want on their daily drive to and
from work. Newspaper publishers, in particular, need to be ready with audio
versions of their content. Don’t let TV and radio win the Internet auto space;
newspapers should be a big part of this.



From scarcity to surplus: Deal with it!



Steve Yelvington, online news consultant and former online newspaper
executive: “I think news consumption will be just like today, only worse. By
that I mean people will continue to collect news from a dizzying array of sources,
including responsible media channels and commentators, special-interest activists
masquerading as journalists, talk-radio demagogues, folklore, rumor and flights of
imagination. The right side of that list has exploded in scale and threatens to
overwhelm the left side, largely as a result of the democratization of publishing
that technology has provided us. The challenge for media companies is to
understand this radical shift from information scarcity to surplus, and craft both a
new role as guide (not gatekeeper) and a business foundation that will support that
new role. That, I think, is infinitely harder than keeping up with … technological
changes.”



As Yelvington aptly points out, news media must further accept the notion that
in this digital world of information overload, news organizations’ role must evolve
further to that of “guide” to what’s out there that’s relevant to individual
consumers. The gatekeeper role doesn’t go away, but the guide to resources role
increases in importance as the breadth of online (and wireless) content grows
faster still. Look to the site About as one
model of the “guide” approach.



The Web: Past its prime?



Tom Regan, technology columnist, The Christian Science
Monitor, and associate editor of CSMontior.com, wrote the following words
as part of a “Future of Journalism” article that will be published in the upcoming
winter issue of Nieman Reports at Harvard: “There is a very important fact
that all journalists must bear in mind – our future does not lie on the Web.
… Media outlets that focus only on the Web will be concentrating on too little, too
late. That’s because the Web will be just one of many ways that we will get the
news to those who want it. Other methods will include e-books, wireless cell
phones, PDAs (personal digital assistants, like Palm Pilots) and probably several
other methods we are not even aware of yet. Desire by the public for these
methods of delivery, and the cost savings they will bring to the media who use
them to publish, will drive these changes during the next decade. … And speaking
of wireless, it will become the primary platform on which to publish digital
content.”



Regan hits the nail squarely on the head. If your news organization’s new-

media executives are still focusing solely or mostly on the Web, they’re due for a
rude awakening in the coming years. News publishers must prepare for a world
where their content is delivered to all sorts of digital devices. That doesn’t mean
the wired Web isn’t important, however. It just means that publishers can’t have
on blinders where all they see about new media is the Web.



Content management 2001



Bob Wardrop, online editor, Inland Empire Online: “Content
management has evolved from a fringe new-media buzzword to become the holy
grail of new media. I envision a future where a writer will file two or three
versions of a story. One will be an in-depth version that may include photos,
movies, audio clips, and links for use on the Web. Another will be a brief to be
used in promotion spots. The last would be for mobile presentation.



“Once each version is filed, the content management system will format the
content for display on any device. We won’t have to worry about the differences
between WAP and WML. The CMS will have a rule-based template for any
presentation device. When a visitor hits the server, it will auto-detect the
presentation device and serve the appropriate file. In my opinion, the universal
publishing model will be the next great advance in our industry.”



Is your news organization ready – or getting ready – for this
publishing scenario? It should be, because this is not far off. This involves not
only finding (or developing) the best content management system, but getting
your editorial staff trained to produce content variants that suit each presentation
device (printed paper, Web, PDAs, etc.).



Personalize, localize



Travis Smith, editor, Variety.com: “Take a look at Vindigo, the
PDA program that gives local info on stores, restaurants, and movies in several
cities. How hard would it be for you, the local newspaper, to tag your stories with
the closest cross street to the event covered. Vindigo could offer a tab that said
‘News’ and I, the Pasadena resident, could find news in a 1-, 2-, 5-mile radius of
my house. Now that’s a future I’d like to see.”



Without a doubt, digital media will allow more and more personalization and
localization. There’s no reason that an online newspaper reader shouldn’t be able
to say, “Show me news that happened today within a 2-mile radius of my house,”
or “Show me retailers within a 5-mile radius of my house that have special sales
today.” To accomplish that, content must be appropriately tagged and made
accessible in content management system databases.



More discussion



Over the years on the Online-News list, there have been lots of great discussions. As
administrator of the list, I have to say that this was one of the better threads to
develop. If you’re interested in reading other comments (since I just provided
excerpts from some of the better contributions), just go to the list Web site and
look in the archive for messages labeled “Futuristic predictions – What are
yours?”



Next week, I’ll be continuing the theme of the future of digital news
media, offering up my own view of where wireless and other new technology is
steering our industry.



Other recent columns



In case you missed recent Stop The Presses!, here are links to the last few
columns:
Will Consumers Pay for Wireless Content?, Wednesday, Nov. 29
Reprints Leap From Print To Web, Wednesday, Nov. 15
You’re Probably Charging Too Much Online, Wednesday, Nov. 8
Archive of columns



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Steve





Got a tip? Let me know about it If you have a newsworthy item

about the online news/interactive news media business, please send me a

note.







This column is written by Steve

Outing for Editor & Publisher Online. Tips, letters and feedback

can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com





Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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