Newspaper of the Future

Lately I have been working a good bit on a project and proposal for The Newspaper of the Future. The whole thing started with the work on the project for Garrett Graff as part of his Social Media and the Digital Disruption class at Georgetown University in Washington DC.  Having just completed two years in the newspaper business as Internet Director for The Capital newspaper in Annapolis (I am now back in full-time Internet Marketing consulting) I realized first-hand how much pressure the newspaper industry is under as we speak.

The pressure is coming from all sides. Newsprint costs are rising, advertising revenues are falling, readership is falling and the age of the average subscriber is rising. Media attention by the average American is increasingly being carved up into smaller segments for traditional media, such as newspapers, TV, and radio, and larger segments for new digital channels. 

Some of these are exploding in popularity and, more importantly, in time invested by millions of users: social networking (The MySpaces, YouTubes, FaceBooks of the world), increased connection through individualized feeds, syndications  and interfaces (RSS, Twitters, SMS messaging, vlogging) and other user-directed content and self-publishing channels, simple SMS messaging on cellphones which is so common you see people punching the little keys everywhere (my thumbs are too big). When time and attention gets soaked up by all these new things, there is not as much time or interest left to spend on the older things. A law of nature – or physics – or thermodynamics or something like that!

Anyway, you get the picture. The times, they are a’ changin’.

Speaking of Bob Dylan ( I know – terribly dating myself here) listen to those words again:

Come writers and critics

Who prophesize with your pen

And keep your eyes wide

The chance won’t come again…..

For the loser now

Will be later to win

For the times they are a-changin’

Well nowadays the ‘prophesizin’ done by the writers and critics may still be done on a word processor – they are late to Blackberrys, but everything else is right on – the loser now will be later to win and the times are changing dramatically. It is a ‘digital disruption’ but more than just a digital or technological thing . 

There is a cultural revolution going on.

My opinion? It is not at all a bad thing. In fact I think it is a good thing. Many earlier posts on this blog talk about why. Above all else, it is bringing a voice to the common person and bringing thousands into the great debates of our day. It is helping us rid ourselves of this monstrous ‘hitmaker’ culture we grew up with. It is empowering the small publisher, the unconnected writer, the self-thinker. It is extending the freedom of the press to those who previously had no press. People are getting involved and are no longer satisfied just being passive listeners or readers.

But whither the newspaper? I grew up in a town where most read three newspapers a day; a morning regional paper, an afternoon regional paper, and an afternoon (then 5-day) hometown paper. Our family took 2, plus 5 major news and photo-journalism magazines. It was great, fascinating and instilled a life-long passion for news, good photography, community affairs, poignant essays, world-wide interests and much else good in me. There is something to be said for the sponsored professionalism and excellence in storytelling that has marked American media for the past 70 years.

I hate to see that all go away.

That is why I started writing this project, which is actually turning into a business proposal. I believe newspapers have to dramatically change their business models. I am not sure there can be enough modifying or tweaking done with 100 year old business models to accommodate the cultural upheavals in communications taking place. Was it not said 2000 years ago that “you cannot take new wine and put it in old wineskins, else they will burst the skins and the wine be lost? New wine should be put in new wineskins”

This is a new wineskins project. It is a fascinating one and has me excited. It develops an idea for a grassroots newspaper that starts where social media is now – and where it might be in two years. It takes the dynamic of people doing self-publishing (specifically in social media and social networking),  keeps that lively force, and works upwards to a solid, semi-edited, credible mass market / cross-channel communications platform that can again represent the soul of a community.

And yes, it does also involve newsprint and ink at some point.

Stay tuned…