Newspapers are papers filled with news. Many of the debates on the future of newspapers focus on the element of paper. ‘Dead trees’ is the association most commonly evoked. Of course the daily physical endproduct is an essential element in every contemplation on the future of the news industry, but in my view there is much more to be considered.

How about:

  • the dependence on the willingness to spend money by advertisers
  • the practice of giving content for free online, while still charging for the same product and service in print
  • the not-so-very-unique-and-remarkable-character of the news that’s published
  • the way news is published and the content formats used to package it

The sharp economic downfall caused advertisers to stop advertising. Not because it might not be effective, simply because no out of pocket money is spent. Newspapers with their fixed number of pages and longterm printing contracts reacted in different ways. In The Netherlands we have seen newspapers advertise their own products (books, dvd’s, magazines, wine to name a few).  How clever this may look at first sight, the effects on the willingness to pay top-euro by advertisers is negative, to say the least (‘….why should I pay if you can get it for free and at the same time sell products, which used to be my business….?). Other newspapers drop their rates, a downward spiral they might come to regret. Some took advertisements that do not match their community of readers, thus changing the ‘Umfeld’.

After losing cashcows like classifieds, personals and joblistings to more flexible and less expensive online media entrepreneurs, the old school newspapers jumped online. Content for free, but we will attract eyeballs & traffic and make up for any losses by selling online ads. No-brainer, right? The same economic downturn led to an even harder landing and to a giant wake-up call. Rates are still falling and ‘giving away our content for free should stop and it should stop now!’

Since the largest publishers met in Chicago a year ago to discuss putting up paywalls, there has been an avalanche of opinions and expectations. It can not work. It will work, if so and so. It has to work, otherwise the newspaper industry will vanish.

What I missed, except in a few blogs, was and is discussions on the quality of the basic product. What is news in a 24/7 world, wired with media all over the place and so called users producing content themselves? What is it that our community of readers want and need? How can we redefine our function into a service that is fit for the 21ste century? What sort of content should we focus on, when news is not new, but old?

It is not the element of paper (or/and money) that should be discussed, but the element of news. Why read, buy or use  a newspaper if the newspaper has no news?

 There are meaningfull questions to be asked. To name a few:

  • Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
  • Words, pictures, graphs, video, podcasts, blogs, comments, links?
  • Opinion, archives, interviews, background, meaning, history, importance, facts, views, interpretations?
  • How do we compose an article these days, what should a header be?
  • Why show a video that does not have any production value, except that it is cheap to make?

And the biggest question of them all: how can we integrate the powers of the web, the coming tablets and smartphones and our paper product into a meanigful experience for our community of readers? And how do we engage the community we serve?

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