What will happen to news publishers? A guess based on what’s happening right now

By Wilbert Baan

The financial crisis speeds up the newspapershift. Media diverges. Newspapers become television, television becomes a press agency. And everything becomes the web. Probably not a single news websites makes enough revenue to employ the same amount of journalists traditional media like newspapers and television employ. The result is a shift. Not in demand, in distribution. What will happen, and how will this shift change organizations?

Here are some ideas and thoughts that I think make sense. Please help me sharpen this concept, or point me at my fallacies. It would be interesting to have a discussion about this.

It all starts with information. Information is and will be infinite accessible everywhere. All smart devices will be connected. This is different to old media where the medium was not infinite and thus choices and timeframes were necessary.

In a connected culture information is directly online accessible, mass media and press functions less as a generator and more as a directional and filter service.

In a connected culture distributed services like Google and Facebook are the new mass media. To reach a mass audience you need to distribute your content through these new mass media. If old media no longer controls the medium it will change our organizations, how newspapers work and what kind of people will be working at newspapers or directional services.

Online you need more websites or less people. Link or syndicate the information that is already out there and focus on the value you can add.

The new rules of information?
I think the expertise journalists have is valuable. The traditional structure of a newspaper is restraining them from using their full online potential. Here is a paradox, because you need the traditional structure to publish a newspaper.

The newspaper is a middle man, this is where you already see a shift. Press agencies have become influential distributers on the live web, and consumers have become influential fire starters. To adapt to the new rules of information (everyone is a publisher), a newspaper should shift up or down the chain. Become a networked company or focus.

To be profitable in a hyperlinked economy you not only need to distribute your information, you should also distribute your costs.

What could the newspaper of the future look like?
Newspapers are in a race. I don’t believe paper is sacred. And I see no real advantages in paper compared to modern media. Even when e-readers become mainstream we probably want books and maybe magazines on these devices, we don’t want newspapers. We want something tailored to the medium. We want news as it happens. News is not a book, it is all about now, about relevancy, about why and what is happening. This consuming pattern is irreversible.

A modern news organization might not have that many people on the payroll. Journalism could become primarily a freelance job. Everything a journalist does can be done virtual. Journalists don’t have to work together in the same building at the same time. News very rarely happens in the building of a news organization, news happens somewhere else or is made by investigating. Being a reporter is a networked job. Your value is in your knowledge and your personal offline and online network. A journalist should feel at home in a networked culture.

If this shift happens journalists will work primarily on a free marketplace, like photographers. They will connect through online organizations (agencies) or virtual marketplaces that connect distribution channels (newspapers, search engines, social networks) and journalists.

These organizations act like press agencies distributing articles or information to all outlets. You can subscribe to specific feeds of information, buy articles, ask for research, or set assignments. If we can have public funded journalism, we can also have research or stories payed by media portals. If you want exclusive news or research the price will be higher. If you’re a very good and trustworthy journalist your value will be higher.

The focus of a news publisher is how they sort information and on what news topics they focus. What news publishers can add to the knowledge and information that is already out there is focus and a filter. This focus and filter is their revenue model, the rest is a mix of syndicated, linked and original information.

Like a group blog. You can’t pay the salary of a hundred bloggers to write content, but you can make money with a group blog. You need to invest your money smart and use it for those things that really set you apart from others. Use money to create unique value that defines your brand.

News is free
I think news (defined as what’s happening right now) will always be free for the consumer. This doesn’t mean news has no value. For end-users it will be free. News will always atract people. By presenting, sorting, linking and packaging the news websites, search engines and networks can make money that funds new journalism and drives new traffic.

Where Attention Flows, Money Follows.


12 thoughts on “What will happen to news publishers? A guess based on what’s happening right now

  1. The Worst of Perth

    The journos as all freelancers thing is interesting isn’t it? The freelancer model does seem to fit pretty well into the new order. Journos making a little per story via a big network of takers. Outlets making a little per story on a wide networked distribution. Lots of amateurs making some beer money in the mix too. That would be my guess, but who knows?

  2. Andraz Tori


    web is making a newspapers’ market smaller by simply fulfilling (part of) the same role cheaper. First thing newspapers need to do is stop complaining and start shrinking.

    However I’d still think there are some benefits of offering journalists long term protection (aka job) in order for them to be independent enough to really produce cutting edge stuff. Naturally there will be smaller number of those than they are today as most will be freelancers.

    Actually greatest on-line competition to newspapers are web-branches of TV stations since they are essentially going after the same market – newspapers dumb down stories for internet, and web-branches of TV houses do a bit more in-depth reporting. It is going to be interesting to see who wins that battle.

    Andraz Tori, Zemanta

  3. Martin Ferro-Thomsen

    I think you got it right. The new news agencies should be created in the spirit of group blogs attracting attention and making money from that. The tech sector clearly demonstrated how to do that, and as readers take their business online more and more, the example can be copied outside the tech sector (happening already).

    I like the idea of the freelancer and/or group blog climbing their way to authority. I’ve seen equally poor journalists and bloggers, and in the attention economy we wouldn’t even bother with that old discussion.

    Being as good as your word is what it’s all about.

  4. Former MSM reporter

    The bottom line is that paper is what made the system work. Paper was THE medium for news, entertainment, sports and most importanly, advertising. We in the newspaper industry had a virtual monopoly on those things and we used that monopoly to pay for reporters, editors, photographers, transportation and office space.

    Twenty years ago, if somebody wanted to know what was going on at City Hall, he or she had to rely upon a paid journalist who sat through boring meetings and could easily pick up the phone and call the city manager, council members and the mayor to catch up on the latest municipal news.

    Today, anyone can go on maplevillecitygovernment.com and get agendas, minutes and such and find out as much as most people care to know about that stuff. And yes, there might even be a Mapleville gadfly running a blog with a different point of view. Getting an unvarnished and largely dispassionate accounting of City Hall, however, will be a thing of the past once the Mapleville Courier goes into Chapter 7 and the presses are sold for scrap.

    All that moneymaking stuff on the Net, like social networking, entertainment news and sports can go on making money without ever having to worry about what’s going on at city hall. No one will ever want that news badly enough to pay some reporter or videographer’s salary to Maplevillecourier.com.

    I think there is some hope that a BBC-type publicly funded entity could be created that could keep track of national and international news, perhaps with some nod to regional coverage as well. The BBC is funded by the British government with a charter that allows no government interference.

    Even if that dream were realized, there would still be a major gap on the local level. Local politicians, such as Los Angeles County supervisors, who each represent 2 million constituents, will be left to operated as clandestinely as they wish. As one of their aides told the LA Times, it will be like the Cheshire Cat: “All you’ll be able to see is the smile.”

  5. Pingback: What will happen to news publishers? A guess based on what’s happening right now on hypernarrative.com, a weblog by Wilbert Baan about Art, Media and Technology

  6. francesca matera

    I agree, but only partly. What will happen to credibility and balance? Networks, blogs anf UGC are no doubt the future. However, what would stop hot-heads from making up events and circulating über-opinionated rubbish? Traditional news agencies and public (and in most cases commercial) broadcasters are there to guarantee such values are applied.

    Freelancers are good, but they are mercenaries! I think there is still a time and a place for good, old licence-funded journalism when it supports originality and innovation.

  7. Andraz Tori

    Traditional news guaranteeing what? I am seing way too many stories from The Onion as regular articles in local press.

    Major media will persist, just heap of specialized ones will have to move to the web, and daily newspapers will have reduced circulation due to moving to the web.

    Andraz Tori, Zemanta

  8. francesca matera

    What I had in mind was some sort of non professional Twitter-style journos. It’s true anyone can publish, but that has its risks. Self-made non professionals turned reporters can publish what they like and their news can hardly be verified, and persecuted. This is what traditional news guarantees.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. James

    Where is the money going to come in to fund mass, deep and thorough reporting? Ad revenue? Online ad revenue generates nowhere near the amount that print ads once did.

    So, as many bloggers seem to propose, dismantle the traditional media by way of more democratic and community based blogging? Fine – but where is the money going to come in to send a hundred reporters to do a good job in Iraq? Who’s going to pay the salary of an intensive feature writer?

    I believe we are in a transition period where mass media is in decline only to be replaced by comment, opinion, and churnalism. The only way traditional big bucks reporting will regain glory is when online ads generate the same income as print ads. Until that time journalism will suffer, and it will be a case of traditional media having to cut staff and holding on for dear life.

  10. James

    Also, when have you ever followed an online ad? I don’t think I have EVER really even noticed one, let alone followed one on the internet.

  11. Pingback: Don’t pay for newspapers? You’re the news murderer! « Inky Binary

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