20090724

News biorhythms and the future of newspaper

Before the introduction of printing in Europe by Guthenberg, people would travel for books. Then books could multiply, move and reach different readers in different locations. Now you don't even need paper and anyone can consult any priceless ancient manuscript from anywhere without fear of damaging it*.

Earlier this year, there was a exhibition in the library of Florence's Convento di San Marco on the process of book making, featuring beautiful objects and illuminations. I remember thinking, as I moved from one marvel of patience to another, about how people would look at a newspaper press a few years from now.

Doesn't it already seem like a black and white scene from Citizen Cane ? The journalist getting his scoop, writing it down, submitting it to the chief editor, the prints running like crazy, a headline splashing on a newstand, yelled by a street vendor...

Scenes from last millenium.

The future of newspaper definitely looks like "more news and less paper".

Many players are folding their last issues, and folding, period. The sector had been looking for new business models for years when depression struck, precipitating bankruptcies in an already fragile ecosystem.

Sourcing, writing, editing, printing, distributing, advertising... now it's less a linear value chain than a shape shifting value cloud. But there's still value out there, be it in relevance, ergonomy, utility, actionability, exclusivity, analysis / insights / advice, local, reassurance, trust, fun... or why not, the quality of the paper (actually, that's the reason why there's still a thriving market - readers and advertisers - for certain magazines).

Likewise, brands are more often scattered among media, platforms, authors, journalists, and contributors who can even be anonymous members of a popular online forum. With a high churn rate because things and people tend to come out of fad more quickly by the day. Any local newspaper can get its 15 Warholian minutes of fame because say, their cute kitten rescued from a fire in Armpit, TN has been over-retwitted as a scoop of michaeljacksonian magnitude.

Reading has become a multimedia experience with pop-ups, background music, rollover images... you start reading an article and end up watching a movie while purchasing virtual pop-corn for your tamagotchi.

Sometimes, the article you're reading is being edited under your very eyes. Like that page devoted to post-elections unrests in Iran on HuffPost, or
DemConWatch's SuperDelegate list, which I consulted about every other minute last year.

News and hoaxes are everywhere, and each individual has what I call his or her own "News BioRhythm" : depending on the context you consume more or less but you somehow have to be fed at certain moments of the day.

The future of newspaper ? The term will more often cover the medium instead of the media brand : you won't be talking about the NYT nor the WSJ, but about your favorite epaper smartphone application, your favorite dedicated device (ie your Kindle, your foldable screen...), where you chose to consult the news.

We all have tools to arrange our own newspapers, but that's not necessarily what you want nor need. I started with My Yahoo! around 1995-96 but quickly switched to a more pervasive browsing mode. There are usually about 30 sites always on on my screen - half of which about news, news gathering, or keeping track of news I read.

I know, I have a problem with my NBR... I should twit my shrink about it (he takes only $13.59 + taxes per character).


* These days, you should fear more for your dutifully purchased ebook (see "
Kindle's Total Recall")

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