Imagining newspaper websites in the future

When I try to picture what Gannett’s newspapers will look like after Corporate makes its next big moves, I keep returning to a reader’s comment back in June about the role of technology:

“Brace yourself for a future where local news is a big collection of whatever the websites can scour up for free, with a little sprinkling of ‘investigative’ reporting as a fig leaf. Most of the customers are no longer willing to pay for more. No amount of hand-wringing or name-calling is going to change that.”

What do you see ahead — and are we already there? Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.

Earlier: I test journalism’s new business model. (Results so far.)

Gannett Digital’s Chris Saridakis reportedly met Des Moines Register employees late last month for “the roll out of the new Kindle-like newspaper product next year,” a reader said at the time. “A big flat screen people will buy and use to get their newspaper, which will be constantly updated throughout the day.”

[Inset, above: Amazon’s Kindle]

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10 Responses to “Imagining newspaper websites in the future”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Revenues from the Web are collapsing faster than those for the dead-tree product. PubMatic, a site which tracks Web ads, says the price of Web display ads has plummeted 46 percent in the last year.
    So the hope that Web site hits would make up for declining newspaper revenues are sunk. Climbing on that ship is like getting on the Titanic — it won’t be a smooth voyage.
    I think this idea of gutting newspapers in hopes the Internet will save newspapers is the worst business decision since Coca Cola tried to change the taste of its product with New Coke.
    It’s almost too late to turn back. Shutting down printing plants and consolidating sites is costling newspapers readers and advertisers.
    It’s rank heresy, but I say it’s time to blow the whistle on the Internet and declare that the Internet obviously has a rosy future, but not for traditional newspapers. Chasing more readers for ever declining cents in ad revenues is not a recipe for success. It certainly won’t pay the salaries newspaper execs now enjoy.
    My advice: Build solidly from a base of newspapers, not expedite the transition to the Web.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Speaking of Kindle — remember the “Minority Report” (Tom Cruise futuristic police state movie) scene on the subway/tram in which there’s a man reading USAT and the photos are moving and the headlines are changing? Wasn’t someone working on some sort of membrane-roll-up version of a newspaper reader that would refresh in similar ways?
    Or did somebody spike my soda and serve me rancid popcorn when I saw that movie?!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The thing about Kindle-like services is it’s sort of like starting your own Internet provider service to launch a web page. You have to: Buy the devices; commit IT resources to keep the network going; contract with wireless companies to make the network public.

    It’s one more thing that would take Gannett out of the information business, IMO. Maybe that’s the goal.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    This will never save newspapers.

    Who wants yet another Kindle-type device for news when you can already read the news on your i-phone or other handheld device? The Kindle works because they’re built to mimic the way we digest books — they’re read when people want an escape from their daily routines. On the other hand, news is a completely different animal. It is digested much differently. News consumers want information to be quickly accessible while at home, work, or wherever they are at the time. Phones and other handheld devices already satisfy the need. Also, people don’t read more than a couple of newspapers on the Internet, if they read them at all. They can get local news at the Web sites for their local news providers, and national news through aggregation Web sites. To think people will want a membrane-y type device will be an attempt to mimic the past. People are already moving away from the handheld newspaper.

    But with the rise of the Internet, consumers never migrated to the Web to satisfy the need for a book. Books made of paper stayed relevant and necessary. A Kindle book operates the same way — as a medium away from the Internet. At the same time, printed newspapers are becoming less relevant and necessary while the content remains available on the Web.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    6:48 You are quite right. I have seen pictures of these newspaper devices, so they exist. I read something recently about a test in England. But one problem is cost: you have to pay as much as a flat-screen monitor — about $970 –to buy one, then the monthly wireless fees to hook them up to newspapers so they can be refreshed throughout the day. That prices them out of everything but millionaire businessmen who want up to date stock stories (something Gannett doesn’t provide). Hearst has financed a company to develop one in this country, and supposed to be holding on to the S.F. Chronicle to deploy it there first. So Jim might see it in the first U.S. operation, although I gather from his posts he’s not going to have the income to buy or use one.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I personally have a Kindle and use it for reading books. I did download a newspaper and that paper is the one for the day. They do have basic web capability and I use that to check espn when I am away from my computer and have my TV off. It works for me. I really enjoy the Kindle and have looked to see if the USA Today was on it (it’s not). I must say that I love the convenience and the size. It is really easy to read.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    USAT eventually will be on Kindle.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    5:36 – You are 100% correct on how to save Gannett.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    What is being lost in this conversation is one simple fact: which audience are you trying to attract?

    If it’s everyone in your circulation area, then by going to the Amazon Kindle or this flat-screen paper referred to by Saridakis, you are cutting off at least 80 percent of your audience.

    A Kindle costs $359, and most people simply don’t have that money to spend on consumer items (The device Saridakis is referring to I believe will retail for more than the Kindle and is aimed at an elite clientele).

    If the Kindle or flat-screen newspaper or a similar device was durable, would have long shelf life, could be replaced with affordable insurance, and could get everything from the newspaper to websites to streaming media on demand…you’d still have an issue because the price is out of the range of many consumers.

    Many consumers, incidentially, who used to read your newspaper when it was made with paper.

    Who is your audience?

    Everyone in your circulation area?

    Or an elite clientele?

    If it’s the former, then you’d be foolish to put your product on a device that only a small percentage can afford (especially in this economy).

    If it’s the latter, then market it to that audience all you want, and play up the Kindle, fancy Kindle-like flat-screen, whatever you want. Make sure you’re satisfying that consumer, though, because if he/she doesn’t like what you’re selling, he/she will leave you in the dust.

  10. Anonymous Says:

    The marvel of the kindle is it’s fancy e-paper display. This technology will eventually find it’s way into other devices. But it has nothing to do with the future of newspapers. The technology that will save us – or kill us – is already here, and it’s probably sitting in your living room.

    The future of “newspapers” is dim. Costs will continue to rise for print and distribution of a physical product, but newspaper management structures are too bloated and tradition-steeped to compete effectively online.

    And so, corporate (or it’s latest owner) will continue to chop. The carnage will only be finished when the paper is produced once a week or less, printing is outsourced or massively regionalized and current properties are sold in favor of smaller facilities that better match the new reduced staff sizes.

    Websites will be pared down. The shotgun approach of “selling eyeballs” will give way to a focus on the only thing newspapers still have a fair monopoly on: trustworthy, local coverage and the local businesses and readers that need the information and exposure.

    Eventually management will be forced to face the fact that they can’t cover everything they covered in the 80s and the frivolous extras will be burned. Want stocks? Go to google. Want to find out what Paris Hilton did tonight? too bad.

    Instead of forcing seven days of thin, weak print coverage “jazzed up” with fancy design, the laws of supply and demand will prevail. The physical paper will be reduced to a once a week publication.

    Short quick hit stories – fresh, local quick hit stories – will be posted regularly and often online. Those quick hit stories will be cherry-picked and developed into quality in-depth journalism targeting the PBS audience of the circulation area for the weekly print product. Print ads will once again fetch premium rates – because there is still a demand for quality reporting and information presented in readable, stylish fashion.

    Needless to say all staff will be pared down to a level where this business model can support it. That is – obviously – drastically different than what newspapers look like now. The technologically deficient will retire or be purged in this process. Reporters will be expected to be versed not only in reporting, photography and video, but also in serious computer aided reporting.

    Newsroom computer-programmers will become a common reporting resource, building databases and interfaces to cull, analyze and present public data to it’s readers in a meaningful and digestible and deep format.

    Video, audio, databases, newsalerts, text streams and RSS feeds will be viewed simply as tools available to journalists. They will be used smartly to enhance and build connections with readers and sources, not as just another quota to meet.

    Citizen journalism may or may not be a part of this. In it’s current form on Gannett websites, reader content is fairly worthless, and the idea that the internet is a two-way street has been lost on most newsrooms.

    Presenting information IS NOT the monopoly of the 21st century. Filtering gems from enormous amounts of worthless chatter is. This is why a single share of Google is still worth 11 times a share of GCI. Future news websites will be smart enough to filter the chatter and leverage the smart contributors to add depth and meaning to their content.

    It’s a brutal path to this point. I’m certainly not convinced Gannett has the vision, leadership or skills to do it. Years of cost cutting at local properties and meaningless initiatives followed with little to no resources or follow through have created a pall of disdain for corporate leadership that is killing buy-in on any new direction. The future at Gannett will reveal only more slashing, and without an injection of SERIOUS vision and insane leadership ability, the company will continue to founder.

    More likely, corporate will keep blindly cutting. Editors will keep insisting on maintaining the image of a fat Sunday section and 7-day-a-week print coverage (because not everybody has an internet connection). Ad volumes will continue to fall. Rates will be slashed. Customer service will get worse. And newsprint will be rendered utterly worthless by these moves.

    In the meantime, some tech-saavy reporters and middle-managers will quit or get fired and start a small operation in their garage. They will scoop the paper on big stories. They will sell cheap, well-targeted ads to local businesses. They will target the educated and involved members of their community with smart, witty analysis. They will use technology to work for them rather than against them. Eventually, they might even pony up the investment to print a weekly product. And, eventually, they will take the place of the staid, tired, “Everything that fits, we print” dead tree product that we’re so intent on predicting the future of.

    So indeed, the future of newspapers is dim. BUT I think the future of news is bright. Demand for information has never been higher, nor has more of it ever been available at any time in the history of the world.

    But, somewhat sadly, newspapers simply don’t fit into this fast-paced, multi-channeled new world. Mystery solved.

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