Journalism was my first love. Eventually, working with newspapers led me to my love of design and to my current career. The newspaper will always have special significance to me.
But the newspaper as we know it is dying.
I tell my students every semester that newspapers have survived the introduction of radio, television and 24-hour news coverage. They’ve changed and adapted, but newspapers have survived. But with the closing of the Rocky Mountain News and significant cutbacks in the newsrooms around the country, the verdict is out on whether the newspaper industry can survive the growth of the internet.
The only way for the industry to survive is for the journalists to become entrepreneurs.
How did we get here?
In the not so distant past, newspapers were locally owned (and often family owned) businesses. Their primary objective was to serve and educate their community. Newspapers were a primary advertising outlet and were profitable.
Corporations started gobbling up these papers to form massive media conglomerates. They used their size to leverage efficiencies and become more profitable. With size also comes the inability to change easily and respond to competitive threats - like the internet.
As more and more readers got connected to the internet, subscriptions started to drop. And as subscriptions dropped, revenues from ad sales decreased. This forced the papers to cut back on staff and the size of their publications. The perceived decrease in quality causes more people to drop subscriptions… and the death spiral continues.
So what is next?
The continued decline of the newspaper will leave a void. Newspapers are excellent at providing in depth and investigative reporting. And local papers provide news that you can’t get from national or regional outlets.
Where there is a void, there is demand. And where there is demand, there is opportunity.
Many of the journalists getting laid off across this country are brilliant, capable people. And most of them have a love for what they do… It’s not a job, it’s a calling. They’ll want to continue to cover the news.
To continue to cover the news, they will need to become entrepreneur journalists. Starting their own outlets and news services. Figuring out where the demand is and creating a product that readers and advertisers will embrace. Creating products that marry the internet with the printed page. Finding a business model that will be profitable and serve the community they are in.
Unlike their corporate counterparts, these entrepreneur journalists can be agile and quick to adapt. They can experiment. Like all startups, many will fail. But someone will figure out how to adapt the newspaper to today’s competitive environment and be profitable. And eventually, the industry will be reshaped and the newspaper will survive.
It just won’t be the newspaper as we have grown to know it.