It's Time for News Organizations to Stop Defining Themselves by Obsolete Products

A fellow professor today asked me:

“What will the future of the newspapers be?”

Meanwhile, someone on the Online News publishing discussion lists notes:

The question is often asked: ‘What will be the future of the newspapers? But, it seems that before we ask that question, we’ll have to first figure out what, if anything, constitutes the absolute core minimum of what it takes to be called a ‘newspaper.’

What iss troubling about those questions is these people are still trying to define their news organizations according to products that are becoming obsolete. The true question is ‘What will news organizations do in the future?’

No news organization should be a ‘newspaper”‘ in the future. Nor a ‘news network’. Nor a ‘news radio station’. Nor a ‘TV station news department’. It’s time that news organizations stopped defining themselves according to news formats that are becoming obsolete.

Yes, I realize that newspapers are now asking themselves ‘What will newspapers do in the future?’ That news radio stations are now asking themselves ‘What will news radio stations do in the future?’ That TV station news departments are now asking themselves ‘What will television stations news departments do in the future?’ And that TV news networks now are asking themselves ‘What will television news networks do in the future?’

However, the basic fact is that each is a news organization. The problem is they’re internally organized to produce products that are becoming obsolete.

Obsolete? Yes, the likilihood is that consumers in the future won’t want to receive a daily news report printed on wood pulp or even the online analogue of wood pulp (despite some video and animation added). Nor will consumers want to receive audio or video sent to them in a schedule or program line-up that they can’t control or re-arrange. The era of the ‘newspaper’ in the United States, Canada, and many other countries, is over. And the simultaneous era of tradition ‘broadcasting’ will likewise be over once broadband becomes part of the tuning mechanism of the average consumer’s television.

Note that I didn’t say that journalism is ending. News organizations and the service of journalism that they produce will still be wanted and needed after the obsolete products known as newspapers, news networks, news radio, and news programs are long gone. Each news organization will be producing services that utilize all those traditional forms (i.e., text, photography, graphics, audio, video, or animation) plus new forms have yet to discover. No news organizations will any longer produce just one, two, or three of those forms (such as just text and still photos or just audio and video) anymore.

People refer to these new journalistic services as ‘multimedia’ or ‘convergence.’ Well, the trick to ‘convergence’ isn’t necessarily to produce ‘multimedia.’ It is for each news organization to learn which of its traditional practices (such as its journalistic focus, staffing, assignments, workflow, business practices, business models, etc.) to continue and which (such as printing news on wood pulp or transmitting news only at a set schedule) to discard, plus what entirely new practices to adopt. ‘Convergence’ is as much a choice of practices as it is producing ‘multimedia.’

News organization that print news on wood pulp must stop defining themselves as ‘newspapers’ because that traditional definition intrinsically limits what they should do. Likewise, news organization that have always transmitted audio news clips on set schedules must stop defining themselves as ‘news radio.’ Etcetera.

The true question is ‘What will news organizations do in the future?’ Not what will ‘newspapers’ do?

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