In der vergangenen Woche schrieb der New Yorker Medienforscher und -berater Clay Shirky (ein Interview mit ihm hier) ein Essay zur Zukunft der Zeitungen, das für reichlich Wirbel sorgte. Nun liefern sich Jeff Jarvis, einer der klügsten Köpfe der Medienszene, und Medienanalyst Alan D. Mutter bei der „LA Times“ eine Debatte zum gleichen Thema. Das Gesamtszenario sieht dabei düster aus. Weshalb ich meinen – etwas positiveren – Senf dazu geben möchte. Auf Englisch, damit wir vielleicht eine Debatte hinbekommen.
(For all anglosaxon readers – please excuse any mistakes in my English)
Last week Clay Shirky wrote a stunning peace about the future, or better the death, of newspapers. It was linked to, blogged about and retweeted like mad, because it is a brilliant analysis of the state of newspapers. Now Jeff Jarvis and Alan D. Mutter are discussing this this issue at LATimes.com.
The problem I have with Clays and Jeffs opinion is: It’s very bleak. Grim. Dark. No hope. Everything’s lost.
But, is it really?
I think that newspapers can be saved. Problem is: they have to change in a pace that makes a the speed of a space shuttle look like plate tectonics. We only have this year, mayby till spring of 2010, to do something we should have done over the last 10 years. The situation in the US is definetly more serious than in Europe, because the editorial staff of papers in North America is way bigger (and costlyer) than in the old world. On the other hand, newspaper sales have falling more dramatically on our side of the Atlantic. And – bitter as it is – when you have such a big staff at least you have chances to do cost cutting.
Why do I think that there is a chance? Because a substantial amount of people still like, love, adore the concept of a newspaper. You can see this with the Sunday papers in the anglosaxon world or with „Zeit“ in Germany. Question is: Do we need a DAILY newspaper?
It seems certain that we don’t need it, if it looks like the ones we have today. Most papers still think they have the task to cover everything that’s going on in the world. They want to be complete, because before the internet they had to: There was no other source of information.
Now in the crisis following the burst of the dotcom bubble, the papers saw how the web was stealing attention and readers even faster than before. And they decided to copy what seemed to be the reason for this success: Everything had to be short, photos didn’t seem to matter that much. They turned into some sort of printed internet.
They didn’t realise that it was exactly the opposite of what they should have done: Differ from the internet, because the most disruptive technology in human history can hardly be stopped.
During that time readers had the feeling, they still had to read the papers – because it always was that way. But the web offered more choice and became more fun, readers discovered that reading a paper in the morning didn’t bring you that much more information compared your day in the web.
In these years the editorial staff in classical media deteriorated. Less journalists, less time for research, less space, less training (if any), less quality. Papers became more expensive but offered less – a strategy which never worked in the history of the world. On the oder side most newspaper companies didn’t get the concept of the web. They tried to do printed internet in the papers and did newspaper business online. Neither didn’t work.
So readers moved to the web because… Well, why shouldn’t they? There was no difference anymore. And with them went – even though slowlyer – went advertising.
Advertising was always there to be a connection between the consumer and a company. Let’s look back at the people holding cardboards on the street (wonderfully portraied in Roddy Doyles „Oh, Play That Thing“). They tried to be funny and striking and in-your-face so that people passing by would change their path and go into a certain store. This worked as long as someone with a cardboard was something unusual.
Today ads in newspapers are nothing unusual. Readers don’t notice them unless they’re really, really striking. But if they are really, really striking, the impact will be much stronger than online – and that’s a chance. Online advertising is great for sales und communicating with a customer, but for building a brand print is still the better choice.
But to get back advertising newspapers have to make it harder for readers to finish the paper – in a positive way, of cause. For me this means more features, more analysis (and for Europe: more columns where we put the most outspoken journalists upfront) and especialle more graphic elements – which are still better to look at than in print. Or: The newspaper has to turn into a daily magazine. But there is a danger: People won’t read the whole paper every day – because they won’t have the time. This could lead into a kind of frustration we saw in 99/00: Readers complained that the newspaper had so much volume that they threw away most of it unread. And this made them wonder if they should still buy it. Or short: They felt overwhelmed.
If we manage to keep the readers, we’ll keep a fair share of advertising. Another share will stay if you focus on the high rollers. Ads have to become more exclusive and more expensive. And: Don’t allow advertising which obviously annoys readers. Remember that there is no egg-hen-problem: Readers don’t buy a paper because of ads (except vor „Vogue“ et al.), but ads come because there of the readers.
Parallel to this new orientation of the paper we have to take care of the internet. In most newspaper houses online and print are not integrated. There are online journalist and print journalis, online sales people and print sales people. We have to get rid of this. We have to train journalists to forget about the medium there working for. Beat reporters and writers produce stories in a length and a format they as specialists find appropriate – trust the experts! This should divide the newsflow into the online must-read-flow and the print want-desperately-read-flow.
After we got this done, we have to use the brand of the newspapers to go forward (as Jeff writes in „WWGD“) and keep journalism alive. What I’m afraid of (not only because its a question of my job) is a period where we have to live more or less without quality journalism. In an globally unstable situation like the current one the effects could be desastrous.