The Shadeless Future of the Traditional Newspaper

Things are going great, and they’re only getting better
I’m doing all right, getting good grades
The future’s so bright
I gotta wear shades, I gotta wear shades

– Timbuk3

Mark Evans, who works for one, has some thoughts about the shadeless future of traditional newspapers. His post was inspired by a speech he heard by Jeff Cole, who heads a team at the University of Southern California that has collected data about internet usage for the past six years.

I have posted several times about newspapers and their dire need to reinvent themselves in the face of their three biggest threats:

1) the internet as a distribution channel that more and more people prefer over a trip to the front yard;

2) eBay/Craigslist and the loss of the classified ads revenue stream (even the non-geeks I know use eBay, etc. to find something they used to look for in the classifieds); and

3) citizen journalism (bloggers and other writers who bypass the newspapers and go straight to the audience).

There are still a ton of people who strongly prefer newspapers. So the old papers have time to evolve. But any doubt about the future of content distribution should have been addressed by the movement online we have witnessed over the past few years. The decision by more and more papers to stop running stock quotes daily is evidence of the inevitable.

But newspapers still have a few things in their corner.

First, talent. If they can redeploy their writers under some new-media structure, they can outwrite most of us amateur hacks without breaking a sweat.

Second, the marketing industry. The marketing industry is based largely on ad creation and placement. Everyone with two brain cells to rub together knows the internet advertising thing is both cyclical and unstable. People simply don’t watch TV ads any more. Radio ads are killing traditional radio. That leaves print advertising.

If the newspapers will let them, the marketing industry will save them. But the newspapers have to play ball by allowing themselves to be recreated as a largely online animal. Sure, the NYT can become a weekly magazine and survive. Other papers can become weekly papers and survive for a while.

But the newspaper gig is up, and the papers who admit it and get ahead on the evolutionary curve are the ones who will make it.

Remember- you don’t have to outrun the bear. You just have to outrun the other guy.