The Future of News Is “Small”

What will newspapers look like in 2020? That’s the burning question a number of people have been tackling lately, including Buzzmachine’s Jeff Jarvis, fellow Spin columnist Dave Morgan and Businessweek’s Stephen Baker.

Jarvis says that: By 2020, we had better hope that newspapers aren’t just papers anymore but are valued members of larger networks that enable their communities to gather, share, and make sense of the news they need.

Morgan says that: I very much doubt that folks in major metropolitan markets in the U.S. will wake up daily to the sound of print newspapers hitting their doorstep. The metro newspaper as we know it will not exist in large markets, and will probably not exist in the same way in many smaller markets as well. However, I do believe that there will be many large and very robust local news, information and advertising media products; probably, in fact, many, many more of them than we have today, particularly in large metro markets.

Finally, Baker says that: Editors will go the way of the linotype machine. Increasingly, human editing will be viewed as an expense and a delay that few can afford. Algorithms, editing software and seach engines will handle much of the work. Communities will bounce around the stories and edit in their own way. In this sense, newspapers will become more like blogs. This represents a shift in power within journalism. Editors long ran things. Editing was management. It was upward mobility. More money. Reporters who didn’t switch to editing by their 40s were often considered quirky, and lacking in ambition. That’s no longer the case.

I agree with all three of them to a large degree, and especially the unequivocal assertion that the Internet is driving this bus. But for whatever erosion takes place, be it the physical paper, classified ads, editors or equity of old news brands, I believe the importance of the individual reporter, or voice, will inversely rise. And it all comes down to trust and accessibility.

Don’t get me wrong; big news companies are tremendously powerful. But big picture, trust in big institutions, along with their brands, is being challenged. People increasingly look to other people like themselves for information, recommendations, comfort, reassurance and guidance on how to live life. The erosion of trust and image in big institutions is inherent in corporations, government, advertising, religious bodies, and the news business. (Two great resources on this topic are Edelman’s Trust Barometer and Gallup’s annual rating of the images of 25 business and industry sectors.)

I believe if we are in a long-term period of eroding trust in what’s big and institutional, then we’re bound to enter a period of intense consciousness and value over what’s small. What’s small is accessible, tangible and compatible with us people.

When it comes to consuming what’s newsworthy, the individual reporter and people brands will become more important. In fact, Jarvis, Morgan and Baker are all perfect examples of this phenomenon in my own news and information consumption. Just look at my blogroll, which I publish openly on my own blog.

I believe the investments and scale that big news brands achieve will remain important in 2020. However, they will need to reconcile with the eventual, dominant attribute we now call small.

Regardless, this period will bring tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurial, independent, innovative thinkers to shape what does become the news business. The big’s monopoly on the ability to shape the future of the news business, or push the status quo, is declining rapidly.

What do you think?

(Originally published in MediaPost)

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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