Archive for June, 2009

When I was first hired as editor at a local free-press magazine in Rome, Italy, I came with ideas, enthusiasm and willingness to work as hard as I could to increase readership.

The publisher looked at me and said without hesitation: “That’s all wonderful, but in the end all I care about is that you get advertisers in. I don’t really care if no one reads the magazine.”

The struggle to make any news business profitable and keeping it interesting at the same time was at the center of the second half of the Chicago Media Future Conference, held at Columbia College Chicago on Saturday, June 13.

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As journalists we are continually looking for answers.

Saturday’s Chicago Media Future Conference tried to find some answers to some of the most fundamental questions that have been hovering over every journalist’s head as of lately: How do people consume the news and how can we – as journalists – make money selling the news? The two questions were addressed by two separate panels.

The first panel tried to focus on news consumption and innovative models of news distribution, especially on the local (ex. Gapers Block) and hyper-local (Everyblock) levels. Everyone seemed to pretty much agree that one of the reasons the traditional newspaper is in crisis is because it had significantly reduced its coverage of local news.

During the second panel discussion, Patrick Spain, CEO of Newser, said the New York Times would disappear in a year and a half and the Trib and Sun-Times wouldn’t be around anymore next year.

Medill professor Rich Gordon, however, said he didn’t believe newspapers were going to disappear so quickly.

“Print is not going to die until the digital platform substitutes everything the newspaper does today,” he said. We might get there one day, he added, as screen technology evolves.

Does that mean one day we’ll all be walking around with Kindles, Blackberrys or iPhones and getting our news exclusively from there? To me, this scenario appears to still be very distant. For two reasons:

1. Right now that technology comes with a high cost. The devices are getting cheaper every year, as demonstrated by the new iPhone for only $99, but you are then bound to pay relatively high monthly fees to actually use them.

2. A lot more people need to know how to use these wonderful devices. I think some journalists are so hyped up with new technology that they often think everyone else uses the internet just like they do.

Well, that’s not how it works. The reason why newspapers will survive for quite some time (most will change, some will fail, but they’ll still be around) is because they are still today the simplest way to get the news.

News distribution in newspapers is based on the “push” model: The news is packaged and handed to you.

Since most people are not information-junkies, they won’t waste their time on countless news websites that pretty much all offer a “pull” model: You get a homepage with as much information possible, and you’re just one click away from all you need. If you’re a journalist, you probably can look through tons of links and other pages. After all, that’s what we do for a living.

But if you’re just someone trying to get some information on what happened in your town, how are you supposed to know that there are dozens of websites out there that can give you in-depth coverage on almost any topic?

The answer, for now, is you can’t.

In my opinion, news-websites still today are trying to figure out how to create a single, compact and user-friendly “package” that will truly substitute the newspaper. That’s why hyper-local news websites can be successful: They are very specific “packages”.

How to get all these “packages” into one big “container” so that people don’t have to waste their days on their computers, now that’s something we should start talking about.