By the year after next, don’t expect to see a daily newspaper hitting your doorstep each morning — according to the Nieman Journalism Lab, that is.
The Nieman Journalism Lab looks to future trends in journalism. Last month, it predicted that the seven-day print newspaper is doomed. It forecasts that newspapers increasingly will focus on digital publication and that by 2015 less than half of current newspapers will follow the seven-day, home delivery model. Instead, print newspapers will be reduced to a two or three times a week vestigial option, offered as part of a much broader set of services and benefits available to “members.”
And rather than those irritating paywalls, the digital membership model would be like membership in your local public TV station, giving you complete access and providing discounts and other benefits (presumably not just the tote bags and coffee mugs you see on every PBS fundraiser, either). The membership model would allow the newspaper to act as a kind of mini-Google, collecting information about the news stories you access and then delivering targeted advertising based upon your reading pattern — advertising that retailers presumably would pay a premium for, because it is more likely to find a receptive audience than the tire ad on page C-7 of the sports section of your daily newspaper.
The most interesting prediction is that newspapers will focus less on news and more on “jobs to be done.” The jobs would include reporting news, but also assisting members in making connections to services and groups in their communities, giving recommendations and answering questions, and helping members meet the right people in the right settings. It sounds something like a combination of Emily’s List and Dear Abby.
I agree that the daily printed newspaper model cannot survive forever; it’s simply too slow, and expensive, to compete with digital delivery of the news. Readership and ad revenues are ever-declining, too. I’m a bit skeptical, however, that daily newspapers can successfully morph into quasi-social networking sites and then hold their own in that area, where there also is a lot of competition. What newspapers do, better than anyone else, is find and report hard news — not opinion, nor advice, but actual facts about events and issues that should be of concern to members of their communities. If newspapers move away from that area of strength to some more amorphous, soft-side model, they may be losing their identities and digging their own graves.
Is there still a market for hard news — without tote bags, membership benefits, and social networking gloss? We’ll find out over the next few years.