Thursday, September 15, 2005

What will newspapers look like in 20 years?

The BBC asks the above question here. (HT: Blogotional)

I've never understood people who call for the demise of newspapers. The paper it's printed on may indeed become something else, but I can't envision a world that loses its hunger for news. In fact, newspapers' biggest critics are actually news junkies. Some of them read newspapers because they enjoy being aggravated.

One change I'm not afraid to predict in 20 years is the demise of corporate journalism. Here's why: Large corporate newspapers demand anything from 25 to 35 percent profits from their outfits. It's an outrageous number that has the Gannett's of the world slashing newsroom bodies, adding more sales people, and putting out a lot more specialty product. So you have a lot of unhappy journalists who aren't exactly going to put in OT to make the paper better.

Family newspapers generally approve of a growth rate that increases at the rate of the cost of money, or about 11 to 13 percent a year. Fifteen percent growth for a large family newspaper is exciting news. Why is this? Family newspapers often have bloated newsrooms with redundant positions, generally pay a little better, offer better benefits, and are much less afraid to go after an advertiser in a news story. At least that used to be the MO on family newspapers. It's difficult to determine how that works these days because there are so few remaining.

What I see happening is large corporate newspapers wiping their hands of print and selling them off piece by piece, perhaps even selling their own presses and leasing press runs from smaller companies. I can see smaller weeklies digging into real corporate journalism and eventually becoming important again after about a 50 year lag behind McPapers. Let's call it a groundswell of old-fashioned journalism taking the day when the stuffed shirts get tired of wringing blood from a turnip and figure out a newspaper is never going to return the best profits on an investment.

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