Newspapers in 2020: Few will survive the transition from the era of distribution to the era of the editor 9/14/07Posted by Steve Boriss in Uncategorized.
The World Association of Newspapers has asked the question “what will newspapers be like in 2020,” drawing contradictory responses last week from Business Week, Dow Jones’ MarketWatch, BuzzMachine’s Jeff Jarvis, and Tacoda’s Dave Morgan (whose vision, incidentally, is very similar to mine). A careful reading of the best of them reveals that they share a golden thread — a key insight into what it will take to survive.
The 20th century was the era of the news distributor, but the 21st will be the era of the editor. For decades, the most important core competency in the news business was simply the ability to deliver news when few others could. Networks and affiliates owned scarce broadcast licenses granted by the government, and newspapers owned large, expensive printing presses that could only be supported by papers with the highest circulations. These barriers to potential competitors were so high that many news outlets simply stopped trying to compete for the favor of customers. They filled their content with the commodity news that every other outlet was using (e.g. from the AP network), while presumptuously convincing themselves that they and their journalist peers, not their readers, were the best arbiters of what should be in the news.
But now the Internet is eliminating distribution as an issue entirely, taking us from an information drought to a great flood. Suddenly it feels like we may not even need reporters anymore, because everyone who has ever wanted to be heard by the public is talking and they won’t shut-up. And unlike reporters, they don’t need to be paid to do it. To which journalists might say, yes, but there’s way too much information, much of which is of poor quality, untrustworthy, and reflects an ax to grind. All true.
So, the new arena for competition is editing — gathering all the possible information, and using a combination of new technologies, good old-fashioned human judgment, and creative talent to attract an audience. In today’s primitive stage, these are the talents that Matt Drudge has, but they are not the skills taught in j-schools or at Old Media outlets. That’s the challenge for news outlets between now and 2020 — but few will be up to it.