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The newspaper industry must change, or become yesterday's news

Mike Elgan | March 26, 2012
Mobile technology and the Internet are transforming news. Whether newspapers are involved is up to them, writes columnist Mike Elgan.

The Internet will make news efficient with or without newspapers

News isn't going to remain inefficient. The Internet will ruthlessly punish the wrong approach and shamelessly reward the right one. In fact, it's already happening.

Some of the best stories these days are dug up by amateur bloggers and citizen journalists who work for free. Why? Because professional reporters are too busy duplicating each others' efforts.

Five years from now, a "newspaper" for nearly everyone will be a high-resolution tablet running apps that aggregate news from a variety of curated sources.

Something like this already exists. For example, I use a $3 app called gNews that gives me global, national and local news "curated" by Google News algorithms. I read it in the same way I used to read the paper newspaper, and not the way I skim news online when I'm at my desk.

Google does an incredibly good job of giving me one news source for every topic, and ignoring dozens, hundreds or thousands of duplicate stories. The overall breadth of coverage is much better than The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal combined. The quality of the text and pictures is many times higher than any paper newspaper. There are no ads. And it's free.

In my experience, getting electronic news on my desktop PC is inferior to reading a paper newspaper, but getting it on my tablet is superior.

Tablet- and app-based news is great for me, but a disaster for the newspaper industry. This is not how it should work.

Most reporters should be independent syndicated writers or should work for news agencies, such as Reuters or the Associated Press. Almost every story written should be put up for sale in a central clearinghouse of some kind where reporters' and columnists' reputations could be established and communicated. Various curators and news organizations would use this clearinghouse to cherry-pick stories. Premiums could be paid for exclusive use. Assignments could be made to well-placed reporters with special access.

Most newspapers should just abandon their print operations, so those costs don't need to be maintained. Nearly all reporting should be local -- and more "national" and "world" coverage should just be "local coverage" from a distant place. Far more of the stories we get should reference and be informed by the original reporting of various journalists, and this referencing should influence their reputations -- and pay -- just like the selection of their work in the central clearinghouse.

Most important, monetization would reflect readership. The stories I read on my iPad would be paid for by me either directly or through some advertising monetization process.

Instead of circling the wagons and building higher paywalls, as The New York Times has recently done , newspapers need to re-create the industry, starting with understanding that the public will abandon both paper and inefficient newspaper organizations in favor of tablets and curated global sourcing for stories.

What needs to happen now is that the newspaper industry needs to abandon its delusions, give up paper, stop duplicating efforts, and get professionals involved in the tablet-based, localized, freelanced, curated future of news.

 

 

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