You’re asking the wrong question

Last week’s issue of SEE Magazine was a “theme” issue, focusing on the future of the media industry (“print in peril”). In addition to this interesting article, there was a panel comprised of four local newspeople with lots of experience: Linda Hughes (U of A, formerly Edmonton Journal), Ron Wilson (CBC), Jeremy Lye (iNews880), and Roy Wood (MacEwan, formerly Edmonton Journal). They discussed a range of things, including the fact that the industry didn’t develop these problems overnight. The general consensus is that journalism is important, but what it looks like in the future is up in the air.

Of course, you can’t have an article on the future of media without asking who’s going to write about City Council, and the panel didn’t disappoint! Linda Hughes asks:

But with breaking news and local-level news, who is going to go sit in a courtroom all day for a three-paragraph story that is important to know about but isn’t sexy and is just part of the pubic discourse? Who is going to do that? Bloggers often provide a lot of insight, but most bloggers are not going to go to sit in city council committee meetings for five hours to keep track of what city council is doing.

Ask a sports writer about the future of news and he’ll probably use this defense, even though he never sets foot inside City Hall! It’s the easy way out, and it’s an incredibly common response lately from journalists in the hot seat. To make things worse, SEE asked the question again later in the piece:

If newspapers and mass media outlets do dwindle, then, who will be the watchdogs in society to ensure politicians don’t run wild? Who will pay for the investigative reporters who can zero in on one thing for months and all of a sudden have the biggest story of the year?

Sigh. There will still be passionate individuals who follow specific topics and do investigative reporting. Probably more now than ever thanks to easy publishing systems (blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc). And they’ll produce much more interesting content than someone who does it just because they get paid to.

Let’s ignore that argument for a minute, however. Asking how to pay a journalist to sit through meetings to get three paragraphs is still the wrong question!

The real question is, why have we ever had to pay someone to sit through five hours of City Council committee meetings? Let’s get rid of that absurd need altogether and this discussion becomes irrelevant.

This is why I’m so excited about ChangeCamp and the possibilities it represents. If we can change the way our government communicates with us, the need for a newspaper filter could go away altogether.

Let’s focus less on how we’re going to pay a journalist to sit with Council all day and more on how we can get Council to communicate with us in a meaningful way. If we can do that, the journalist will have much better things to cover!

I still like magazines!

Post ImageDon Dodge asks whether newspapers and magazines are dying. I’ve been in this discussion before, at least for newspapers:

I hate almost everything about newspapers. I don’t like the size of the paper. I don’t like the way it makes everything black. I don’t like that every page has to be jammed full of stuff. I don’t like that the pages are not full color. I don’t like that once I find something interesting, I can’t do anything with it (like send it to a friend, or blog about it with a link, etc).

Needless to say, I think newspapers are a dying breed. Or if not dying, at least drastically changing (I still read newspaper websites online, for instance). The physical newspaper as we know it, won’t be around too much longer.

Magazines, on the other hand, will be around for a while I think. I’ll give you two pieces of evidence to support this. One is Chris Anderson’s mainstream media meltdown which shows that while newspapers, television, music, and others are losing eyeballs and subscribers like crazy, books and magazines are somewhat mixed. This suggests to me that people find magazines more valuable than say, a newspaper. Not the content itself (I am not suggesting that people don’t find a TV show valuable) but the medium – I think people like physical magazines and books.

Which brings me to my second piece of evidence – the magazine itself! Despite still not being able to do anything with the content in a magazine, the size is usually comfortable, and the pages are cleanly laid out and colorful (and don’t make my hands black). I often will refer back to a magazine article (and the articles themselves are usually longer and more indepth than your typical newspaper story). Don thinks the outlook for magazines might be worse than newspapers because newspapers are local focused. Perhaps he’s right, but I think it takes longer for a magazine article to be out of date than a newspaper story. There’s hope for magazines yet.

Don also asks: “What are your reading habits? How do they compare to your parents reading habits?” Probably not fair for me to answer that question, as my parents are fairly young and very tech savvy. My Dad subscribes to the Edmonton Journal online, and I doubt they read any other physical papers except the local “Inuvik Drum” (which I think is probably the norm in towns of only 3000 people).

Bottom line – newspapers will disappear and I won’t be sad to see them go. Magazines may disappear too, but it will take longer, and until we have digital books or magazines*, I’ll be sad to see them go.

Note: I’ve never actually subscribed to a magazine. I’m very a much a “buy on the spot when I see one that looks interesting” kind of magazine shopper.

* – by this I mean a physical book or magazine that looks like one today, except that it wirelessly connects to the Internet to update the content to be whatever I want to read. So pages don’t have “print” on them per se. This gives you the full benefits of say, a laptop, but with a form factor that is more natural and easy to read. And believe me, it’s coming.

Read: Don Dodge

Maybe an Overdose?

Post ImageAs Dickson mentioned earlier, CanWest MediaWorks has decided to stop publishing the print edition of Dose, and focus instead on the online properties. The decision certainly comes as a surprise to me, and probably to most people, considering CanWest said just two months ago that Dose readership was growing:

Dose’s total readership among 12-to-64 year olds in late January was up eight per cent from three months earlier, the survey found, and now sits at 270,423. Daily readership of those aged 12 and over was 292,000.

“These results show that Dose is really resonating with its audience,” said Noah Godfrey, publisher of Dose. “We’re really pleased with the continued growth of our readership base and Dose’s strong brand awareness.”

Evidently not pleased enough! Though I don’t think the decision was Mr. Godfrey’s. Maybe the higher ups needed to run this little experiment called Dose to realize that their target audience spends far more time online than with a paper. And actually, anyone who has looked at an issue of Dose will know that it was simply an onramp to the Dose websites anyway. Urls and “more online” were scattered throughout the publication.

CanWest said it was ending the publication of Dose, but would continue publishing content to its online service, dose.ca, as well as on cellphones.

The company said 50 people would lose their jobs.

Oh well. I kind of liked the Sex Advice (so funny), and sometimes they had some great articles on blogging or some other tech topic, but for the most part, I didn’t read that regularly. I hope they do some work to make the website better now that they are focusing on the online product.

The last issue was published today.

Read: CBC News

Digital Newspapers – Coming Soon?

Post ImageA little over a year ago, I wrote that newspapers are one of my least favorite forms of media. To reiterate:

I hate almost everything about newspapers. I don’t like the size of the paper. I don’t like the way it makes everything black. I don’t like that every page has to be jammed full of stuff. I don’t like that the pages are not full color. I don’t like that once I find something interesting, I can’t do anything with it (like send it to a friend, or blog about it with a link, etc).

These things hold true today. So what has changed in the last year? A few things. The “magazine-newspaper” called Dose launched in some of Canada’s larger cities, and I have to admit that I like it better than a typical newspaper, probably because of the size of the pages and how they open like a book, rather than being folded horizontally. There’s lots of color and non-standard layouts too.

More interesting than that however, is that newspapers of the future, such as the one seen in “Minority Report”, are coming sooner than previously expected:

In the Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller “Minority Report,” a subway passenger scans an issue of USA Today that is a plastic video screen, thin, foldable and wireless, with constantly changing text.

The scene is no longer science fiction.

The so called “e-paper” technology is finally beginning to mature, making it feasible to employ for products like newspapers. Despite the recent advances, there is still a long way to go – there is no standard (not that we need one I guess) which means some e-paper is flexible and some is rigid, some can display full color and some cannot, some require a power source and some do not. I think it’s only a matter of time before the details are worked out however.

I eagerly await digital newspapers, and the editors of today’s publications should be excited too! The newspaper could once again be as “up-to-the-second” as TV stations, and the potential for advertising is immense – think Google AdSense, but in your dynamically updating newspaper. Digital newspapers would be better for the environment too! Let’s hope the technology advances and costs decline so that the digital newspaper will be a reality.

Read: CNET News.com

A Newspaper Revolution

Earlier today I wrote a somewhat comical entry about how young people are no longer interested in the six o’clock news. Well, there was some seriousness there too – young people really are having an effect on news outlets of all types, from television to newspapers. So I thought it was especially appropriate that I’d come across a post from Jeff Jarvis where he talks about Rupert Murdoch’s speech today to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington. For those of you that don’t know, Rupert Murdoch is top dog at News Corp.

According to Jarvis, the speech included lots of props to the Internet and specifically, to blogs. From what I read, Murdoch seems to have done a great job in providing some background to what he’s talking about, explaining how newspapers enjoyed a virtual monopoly until the radio was invented. Now, the time for newspapers to change has come – “The trends are against us,” Murdoch says. He’s not saying that news is dead however, just that it needs to be delivered differently:

The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in ways consumers want to receive it. Before we can apply our competitive advantages, we have to free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start thinking like our newest consumers. In short, we have to answer this fundamental question: What do we – a bunch of digital immigrants — need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?

Talk about hitting the nail on the head. They are indeed “digital immigrants”, what an excellent way to describe the average newspaper editor. If there is anyone who could give a “call-to-arms” speech to the newspaper industry and have it be heard, I can’t think of a better man than Rupert Murdoch. He is so important, and so highly regarded. Let’s hope the editors listened.

I hate almost everything about newspapers. I don’t like the size of the paper. I don’t like the way it makes everything black. I don’t like that every page has to be jammed full of stuff. I don’t like that the pages are not full color. I don’t like that once I find something interesting, I can’t do anything with it (like send it to a friend, or blog about it with a link, etc). Please newspaper editors, hear Murdoch’s call, and bring the newspaper into the digital age!

Read: BuzzMachine