Dead tree dinosaurs and the fabulous future of the news bidness

I once said that I left newspapers in the late 1990s because I didn’t want to be encased in amber.

That’s cold, I know, but true.

I’ve worked for more than my share of “former” newspapers. And at the surviving papers today, I’m seeing many bosses do the blame game and have ugly public panic attacks as their print products teeter on the abyss of irrelevance.

No doubt some will fall in.

But while some newspapers are shaky, I’m an incurable optimist about the news business, and here’s why: There’s more evidence that people are hungry for news and they will take the time to hunt it down and pounce on it when they find it.

My colleague Steve Yelvington recently pointed to a new report from McKinsey & Company that he said left him “glum about the newspaper business.”

The other day, when commenting on the announcement, I said “we may be heading for a world in which nothing is dominant.”

Now comes a bit of research from the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company that demonstrates what I meant. The charts are hard to read, but here’s the nut graf: “The research — an online survey of 2,100 consumers in the United States — found that the respondents divide their time among as many as 16 news brands a week. ‘Brand promiscuity,’ it appears, is the norm. Such findings have implications for media companies as they refine their products and strategies.”

Yes, the report says a serious bunch of people in the U.S. — about 24 million — have largely abandoned newspapers. But they haven’t abandoned news, which they are getting from other sources, including the Internet and blogs.

How much do they crave news? Check out Akamai’s Net Usage Index with a worldwide News Consumption meter. (You can even download a hypnotic little widget for your desktop to monitor who’s consuming the news, when and where.)

Now blend that demand with the McKinsey & Company report, which says some news consumers will go to as many as 16 places to find what they’re looking for!

That tells me news niches are here to stay and we need to let the notion of a mass medium — the all-things-to-all-people newspaper — sink into the amber.

Even back in the day, frankly, no one paper could sate my hunger for news. I needed at least two newspapers, some magazines, some newsletters, some radio and some television.

That’s because there is no one mass that works for all of us. Each of us is a mass of different niches.

Thanks to the wonders of Ajax, I can now have my 25 current favorite niches fed into little modules on my Netvibes start page. Among other things, I have the local weather, my three favorite news feeds, an online magazine, a half dozen journalism and news blogs, a Flickr photo montage of photos tagged “San Antonio,” a YouTube feed of video tagged “politics,” and a dynamic Craigslist search for something I’m in the market for.

And if the local news organization does something smart, like offering me a feed of content that I can’t get anywhere else – content about my neighborhood, for instance – then it will earn a piece of real estate on my Netvibes start page.

But if it continues to do stupid, dying newspaper tricks like cutting costs by eliminating the neighborhood sections and making it harder to find (I’m not making this up; they really did that where I used to work), well then, it belongs in the rear view mirror.

I think the future of the news business is bright. And I think it’s going to be a whole heck of a lot of fun finding new ways to tell true stories in a world of very hungry niches.

One thought on “Dead tree dinosaurs and the fabulous future of the news bidness

  1. Pingback: Bullish on news, if not newsprint « Lamentations

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