The Future of Newspapers

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Newspapers at a tipping point [Mlehet / Flickr]

An online redesign of the New York Times aside, newspapers don’t have too much to be happy about these days: advertising revenue is down, circulation is slumping, and newsroom cuts have become daily news. The old Knight-Ridder chain, which includes such papers as the venerable, 177-year-old Philadelphia Inquirer and the award-winning San Jose Mercury News, is under new ownership and is headed, individually, for either the auction block or the chopping block.

The internet is the source for most publishers’ headaches. Free listings on Craigslist have eaten away at a formerly stable flow classified ad cash. Bloggers are crashing the opinion party. Wikipedia- and google-empoyered readers are fact-chcecking — often successfully — everyone from their home town daily to the gray lady. And while a recent Pew study found that online newspaper reading — especially among younger folks — has replaced some of the dwindling paper readership, web advertising hasn’t yet made a commensurate leap.

So what’s to be done? What’s the best business model for a newspaper in the 21st century? What’s the best editorial model? And are they at odds now — in a different way than before?

Alan Rusbridge and his Guardian think they have some answers. Rusbridge gave a sort of state of the newspaper business talk in London last month and painted a picture of a new breed of newspaper. One example, among many:

We’ve got hundreds of thousands of readers of The Guardian, they’re all highly intelligent otherwise they wouldn’t be reading The Guardian and quite a lot of those will have gone to India, quite a few of them are Indian, so we started a site called ‘Been There’ in which we said, come on, you’ve all been to India; where are your favourite places? Where are your favourite cities? Where are your favourite restaurants? Where did you stay? And this is the beginning of a complete inversion of the newspaper model. It’s not us telling you, it’s us saying to you, “Why don’t you take part in this? We’ll give you the space but let’s hear from you.

If we are watching the “beginning of a complete inversion of the newspaper model,” where does the inversion end? If they’re going to survive, what purpose can — must — newspapers serve in the internet age?

Alan Rusbridger

Editor, The Guardian

Zack Stalberg

President and CEO, The Committee of 70

Former Editor, The Philadelphia Daily News

Mark Fitzgerald

Editor-at-large, Editor and Publisher

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