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The death of the Newspaper

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 6th November 2008

New Media Knowledge ran a great event last Tuesday entitled What Happens to Newspapers? Lorraine and I went along to check it out.

The event was chaired by  Nico Macdonald (consultant) and the panel included Neil McIntosh (Head of Editorial Development,, Justin Williams (Assistant Editor at the Telegraph Media Group), Martin Stabe (online editor, Retail Week), Tim Gopsill (editor of The Journalist) and Mike Rowley, (Director of Digital Publishing – Northcliffe Media)

The debate covered a lot of ground – far too much to discuss in detail here – but I wanted to draw on some of the main themes and I might return in due course to explore certain areas in more detail:

Defining Journalism – In these days where citizen journalists are cropping up everywhere, boundaries between traditional journalists and amateurs are blurring. It will be interesting to see whether the NUJ attempts to tackle this head-on.

Delivery – There was much discussion about how content was delivered by Newspaper organisations (not necessarily through their Newspapers!). In terms of online news, Justin Williams even went so far as to suggest that The Telegraph is experimenting with post-moderation, where journalists would be able to post comments immediately (like bloggers) with editorial moderating occurring after the event. This is essentially designed to speed up the process, as getting news live asap is crucial in digital media, especially with the growth of micro-blogging.

Prism of Newspapers – This is a great phrase and was one of the major takeaways for me. It does seem that so many Newspaper organisations continue to view news through the prism of a Newspaper (and broadcast media through the TV etc.). This is a very dangerous path indeed. The Guardian’s attempt to publish a daily PDF version (not to mention the ability to be able to view the actual paper online!) as well as the ever present (and ever failing) ‘e-reader’ being examples of this frame of mind.

Right content in the right way at the right time – Again, another crucial takeaway. Essentially every consumer of news only ever wants to receive content that is right for them, delivered in the most efficient (and cheapest) way at any one particular time. Yes, I might want to flick through the Metro on the train, but I don’t want to read it in the office, just as I don’t want to glance at the BBC website on my iPhone while sitting in front of the TV. As our requirements and expectations change, the media has to be flexible to adapt and change as well. And technology will undoubtedly be the biggest driver in changing our requirements.

So what is the conclusion?

Personally I don’t see a great future for ‘the Newspaper’. Were I not in PR, I would rarely pay for one. My consumption is naturally online. I know this is partly generational and as a so-called ‘digital native’, I am not ‘the norm’. However the Internet is growing and with the rise of netbooks, portable computers and iPhone-like mobiles, the ultra-portability of digital media is just around the corner.

Mass media should be far from dead, but I think it is struggling. This is especially true of the larger media institutions who are traditionally focused around a Newspaper. These are the organisations that find technology difficult. Despite talented and forward looking employees, they seem to be struggling to change.

I imagine size plays a big in this. This institutions seem to lack the flexibility to change and innovate, but it is possible, as parts of the Guardian, Telegraph and BBC are gradually demonstrating.

Thanks to Ian and Elizabeth and the rest of the team for a great night. The next event, Behavioural Targeting: The Fire and The Fury will be held on 25th November.

Other coverage of the evening can be found here:

NMK: – interesting to note the comment about the lack of ‘young’ people on the panel!

NMK: – Video apparently to follow

Justin Williams: – Clarifying his position 🙂

Martin Stabe:

Daryl Willcox:

Finally, really went to town with its coverage…

NMK: ‘Prism of newspapers’ restricting online innovation, says Telegraph assistant editor

‘Post-moderated system’ could reduce need for sub-editors, says Telegraph assistant editor

NMK: ‘What happens to newspapers?’ – place your bets, please

Danny Whatmough