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There is so much talk nowadays about the demise of "Newspapers" and the epic fall of journalism from its glory days. This is one conversation that is taking place both online and offline in the 'real world'. The latter implies it's a real issue. One that affects real people, their jobs, their livelihoods, and their families. So let's start with the obvious: newspapers will die. Talking about the 'newspaper' industry, or a journalism student saying that she's interested in getting a job in the newspaper industry just doesn't make sense anymore. Newspapers are a medium. Its a distribution mechanism, and an aged one. Akin to vinyls being the distribution method for music. Vinyls are dead*, but the demand for music has never been greater. The analogy fits perfectly: newspapers are dead, but the demand for high quality, credible news has never been higher. In fact, it's growing at a fast pace as news readers have gotten used to easy access to information, and with the abundance of choice, I believe demand has grown as well.
So why is there doom and gloom? It's because news media organizations have not yet figured out how to transition from newspaper companies to news and information companies. Their unique value proposition is certainly NOT tied to dead trees. Its the content, stupid. And not national or international content - leave that to the big boys (who have their own unique set of challenges). So 99% of news media organizations should focus on local, and hyperlocal, and stories that their direct communities care about. Some have started to figure it out, while others are still left confused, challenged, and are struggling to maintain their identy. The knee-jerk response is to cut costs (probably a good idea) and to lay off staff (not such a good idea if you are letting go of quality journalists).
Their is no silver bullet. The first step is to recognize that newspapers will die, but that the news industry will survive and blossom. But success awaits only for those who can innovate around new distribution methods: blogs, social media, RSS, pushing content to mobile etc. And how about diversifying ad sales strategies as well? And please, please, please invest in superior investigative reporting. That will differentiate your organization.
The skills required to be a great journalist have also changed. Writing good stories is just one fraction of the package. News organizations should hire based on a different skillsets: don't just hire traditional journalism students who write eloquently. Hire students, technologists, artists, bloggers, whoever - but hire people who can engage and communicate with passion. People who can create and nurture communities. Hire staff that don't see other newspapers as competitions, but rather see them as partners in a networked communty of news providers. Journalists who merely write will go the ways of newspapers. Journalists who can write and engage in the new, connected, networked world will the be ones who will help guide and transition newspaper companies into news and information companies.
*Vinyls are not technically dead. Almost every new song can be picked up on 12" records, believe it or not. As a DJ, I spin only vinyl and have never had problems finding the latest and greatest tunes in my local record shops. So while vinyls are not technically dead, it's a good analogy nonetheless!