Every newsroom should have its own seer. Not to predict the next breaking news story (that’s half the fun of being a journalist, surely?) but to foresee how the newspaper model will change and adapt in the future. Keeping a news title abreast of the latest technological and economic challenges is part and parcel of an editor’s role, and is a task that has been rendered all the more urgent over the past two decades as technological advances and a difficult economic climate.
Even without the services of an in-house sibyl, editors have long been second-guessing how content production, publication and delivery will evolve – sometimes with alarming success. The Kaiser memo, written in 1992 by then- managing editor of The Washington Post, Robert Kaiser, is startlingly accurate in many of its predictions. After being told of an impending digital revolution by leading lights in the world of technology, who spoke with certainty of a time when “the PC will be a virtual supercomputer, and the easy transmission and storage of large quantities of text, moving and still pictures, graphics,” Kaiser recommended that the Post get ahead of its competitors by designing “the world’s first electronic newspaper… with a series of ‘front pages’ and other devices that would guide readers the way our traditional cues do -- headlines, captions, story placement, etc.”
Twenty years later, Chuck Moozakis, Editor-in-Chief of News&Tech, has cast his mind forward to 2020 and what the coming decade holds for newspapers. Moozakis’s predictions are all the more credible for being based on trends that are already beginning to emerge in the present day. Looking at some of his suggestions, Moozakis’s future does not look that far away…
It will come as no surprise to hear that digital platforms will still be central to news outlets’ business strategies. As mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets become lighter, quicker and cheaper, Moozakis maintains that their penetration levels will eventually soar to 90 percent in the U.S. (where smartphones have at present reached 50 percent of households).
Already we are seeing a dramatic upsurge in the number of people consuming news and information via iPhones and Androids. The Pew Research Centre’s 2012 State of the News Media report revealed that 34 percent of those who access the news from a laptop also get their news from smartphones, 17 percent of laptop users also consume the news through tablet devices and 5 percent get their news from computer, smartphone and tablets.
The Reynolds Journalism Institute published its Media News Consumption Survey, which suggested that the iPad and similar tablet devices are fast becoming the new printing presses; Roger Fidler, Program Director for Digital Publishing at the Institute is adamant that “a newspaper displayed on a tablet remains a newspaper.”
There’s still a place for print
Reassuringly, this digital pre-eminence is unlikely to spell the end for print. Entry number 6 on News&Tech’s list of ’20 trends for 2020’ predicts that “the printed newspaper survives, but not in every American city and not every day of the week.” It’s an assertion that has its basis in present day reality: The Times-Picayune is just one of several American news titles that has scaled back its print edition in order to prioritise online content. Moreover, recent anecdotal evidence would suggest that younger audiences are less concerned by the disappearance of daily newspapers – meaning tri- or bi-weekly titles could soon become the accepted norm.
Newspaper = news brand
Even today, referring to The New York Times or The Guardian as "newspapers" seems woefully inaccurate, as the two titles - along with the majority of formerly print-focused news outlets - are diversifying their product across multimedia platforms. The situation will only become more common as time progresses and news organisations aim to address an ever-growing audience by exploiting the opportunities offered by developing technologies.
'News that is you and you alone'
The perpetually increasing amount of information collected by data companies about our interests, online activities and social networks, combined with the increasing consumption of the news via personal devices will inevitably lead to a media landscape in which each article, Google search or newsfeed will be tailor-made for every individual. Twitter’s announcement this Thursday that it is to allow advertisers to target tweets based on people’s interests is an early indication of the direction hyper-targeted information will take. In the not-too-distant future news media organisations will have the ability to target articles to specific readers according to each reader’s particular interests.
News&Tech’s vision of the future of newspapers offers elements of realistic hope to the industry at a time of great turbulence. It does however depend on publishers having the foresight to invest in their news titles even (or especially) at times of great economic difficulty. Cutting jobs, print circulation and editorial budgets without laying foundations for the future could see some organisations pull the rug from under their own feet well before 2020.