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Trends to watch in 2008 to gauge the pace of news change 1/1/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Future.

In regards to the future of news, it is probably more difficult to predict when things will happen than what will happen. Long-term changes can be projected through use of logic, whereas short-term events follow a bumpier road of failed experiments, specific actions by individuals, and short-term marketplace responses. So, rather than provide specific predictions for 2008, I have listed below endpoints we may reach within 5 years, against which the rate of change can be assessed one year from now.

Fragmentation: Audiences are consuming very little mass media, having splintered-off into a multitude of sites with news that more directly affects their lives, better matches their worldviews, and more closely fits with their interests.

Monetization: Newspaper and TV advertisers have transferred substantial chunks of their advertising budgets online because sufficient numbers are no longer exposed to their ads in traditional media. Advertisers are also drawn by online’s ability to target sales prospects better because sites are fragmented by interest and much more is known about each individual user – an online feature so valuable that those concerned about privacy are increasingly patronized, marginalized and ignored.

Murdochization: Rupert Murdoch has the largest impact on the national conversation, with his now-superior Wall Street Journal replacing the NY Times as, in his words, the leading “national elitist general-interest paper.”

Collapse of Local Broadcast: Local TV stations are fighting block-by-block for revenues in online hyperlocal news because: 1) broadcast audiences have migrated to the Internet; 2) they prefer to receive their national and international news from the best sites in the world; 3) audiences find hyperlocal news more interesting than metro news; and 4) the networks no longer need the local stations to broadcast their programming the “last 50 miles” to homes because of Internet and wireless technology, depriving the stations of revenues from local ads placed within and between network primetime shows.

Newsosaur an Endangered Species: With the marketplace seizing control of news, a lack of opportunities for youth in Old Media firms, and a new generation of tech-savvy journalists enjoying the pleasures of unedited, free-flowing, fast-changing self-expression, those who defend Old Media practices and government regulation are increasingly regarded as amusing curmudgeons, relics of a bygone era.


1. Joe Zekas - 1/1/08

I’ve seen very little evidence for the proposition that “audiences find hyperlocal news more interesting than metro news.”

The collapse of one hyperlocal site after another appears to be strong evidence to the contrary – unless you’re arguing that there’s no audience at all for metro news.

2. Steve Boriss - 1/1/08

Joe, I don’t think we have seen hyperlocal news done right yet, except in spurts. Look at iBrattleboro, and read the section “rumors” for a good example of how interesting news can be if it is about places you go and people you know. I say that good hyperlocal news needs to pass the “Tell-a-Friend” test — news so interesting that you’d pass it on. The models that have tried and failed have not reached this level of intimacy with the community. I do think that some of the experiments with HS sports have promise, particularly those that allow user-generated content. BTW, I do think there is little to no market for metro news — that this is something we have because of the limits of technology. Even sports and weather can be handled better by specialized, non-local sites.

3. Joe Zekas - 1/1/08

My gut tells me that hyperlocal news will prove to be like Communism and Islam – the path to a better world if anyone ever did it right.

But no one ever does.

4. Five news trends to look out for in 2008 « sans serif - 1/2/08

[…] Read the full article: Trends to watch in 2008 […]

5. Steve Boriss - 1/2/08

Joe, Actually, I think we already have successful hyperlocal news, but nobody is calling it that — sites like Facebook and MySpace. The question is whether these communities can: 1) work on a small geographical basis; 2) attract people who don’t know each other; and 3) generate sufficient revenue from hyperlocal advertisers for paid content providers.

6. modza - 1/2/08

I agree with Steve that Facebook and the other narrowly focused social networks (look around Ning for a few thousand examples) prove that “My” local news works. The problem is that local newspapers have not figured out how to do that, and have ceded the territory, with few exceptions. Even those may be too late: Bakersfield has its northwestvoice (Northwest Bakersfield, that is), and Denver has its suburban mini-sites, but it’s not clear to me that they’re financially successful, at least not yet.

The other issue, monetization, is not just about advertisers migrating to the web, but to which web venues, and at what price. The Web has squeezed a lot of the profit out of advertising, affecting all the older, high-margin media (local TV stations, newspapers, magazines). There just may not be enough ad money, even if every advertiser migrated all their advertising, to support the old business models. When the online revenue portion of newspaper and TV station overall revenue grows enough to replace the old-line revenue is still the big question. My prediction? 18 years. (I have the spreadsheet to “prove” it.)

7. Steve Boriss - 1/2/08

Modza, I agree with most of your points. Personally, I think the issue of supporting old revenue models will be irrelevant. The cost structure of online news will be much lower. The core function will be editing. Reporting will be “outsourced” to other parties, much of it available at no cost. Many of the production and distributions costs will be funded by an advertising-supported layer I’m calling “News Frameworkers,” which are represented in early forms by companies like Facebook and WordPress. I’ve sketched out a high-level vision in my permanent article The Future of News.

8. modza - 1/2/08

Sorry, I should have read your vision first. If I had, I wouldn’t have bothered to pull my punch. The obvious implication (to me, anyway, and I think to you) of the breakdown of the old business model for old media, is that old media business organizations will either fail (most of them), or mutate (a few), and be supplanted by new businesses (probably many).

Still, in your model, I miss the investigative reporter, who brings his professional skills and experience to bear to uncover stories people do NOT want told… Propublica might address this, but it’s a charity. I don’t see how right now, but I would hope there is a business model that will support the best values of journalism: to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted… Michael

9. Steve Boriss - 1/2/08

Modza, Not enough room for me to explain it here, but I will not miss investigative reporting at all. I also think that Pro Publica is a dangerous development. If you are interested in my thoughts, read my posts here and here.

10. nigeleccles - 1/2/08

Nice list.

On monetization I agree there are many open issues about privacy but to some extent people tend to be complicit in trading privacy for usefulness.

Facebook friends feed was blasted at the time but now users (including myself) think it is one of the best features on the site. 20 years ago pretty much everyone was happy to publish their phone number in a book that anyone had access to.

I think the privacy/trust issue is something that is being worked through by everyone. If organisations behave well and don’t screw up with our data then we will trust them. Witness the UK government losing 20 million records in the post which has pretty much torpedoed their plan to introduce identity cards.

11. Joe Zekas - 1/2/08


I think your questions have been answered, definitively. There’s enough evidence, over a long enough period of time, to quash any hope for local geographically-based communities. They don’t attract enough people and consequently don’t attract much revenue.

Your comment that MySpace and Facebook are “successful hyperlocal news” sites completely mystifies me. Perhaps I need to spend more time at those sites.

12. Steve Boriss - 1/3/08

Joe, People are most interested in news that directly affects them personally. News about friends, family, and neighborhoods does a better job of this than news about a metro area. MySpace and Facebook are successful products that provide news about friends and family. So, for example, if someone could find a way to create MySpace and Facebook pages that dealt with neighborhoods and attracted people who did not know each other, that would be a promising hyperlocal news idea. I do not believe we have seen anyone find the right formula yet, but I think someone will figure it out. I also believe the experiments have been too cheap — that the potential revenues from metro advertisers for whom local broadcast will cease to be effective plus the untapped ad dollars from hyperlocal advertisers could fund real people doing news work, without relying so much on amateurs.

13. Joe Zekas - 1/4/08

Now I get it. When you said “we already have successful hyperlocal news” I should have heard “we already have a platform where successful hyperlocal news is possible.”

The problem that keeps recurring is that proximity doesn’t seem to be enough to bind people to each other in any meaningful way.

I think there’s already an adequate hyperlocal advertising platform: it’s called Google.

It seems like you’re stuck in the model of the community newspaper / newspaper group, a model that makes no sense in the world of the Web. It’s becoming harder and harder to believe that advertising will support news at any level in this new world. The ads can be delivered in many contexts that are relevant and search makes up the balance.

14. Steve Boriss - 1/4/08

Joe, I think a successful geographically-based, hyperlocal news model is coming. But I’m not sure we’ve seen it yet.

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