10 theses on the future of newspapers

Much has been written about the future of newspapers. Here my humble contribution:

  1. In a complex world people turn to trusted sources of information for news, analysis and comment, e.g. newspapers.
  2. The unique value of a newspaper is its editorial staff (1).
  3. The core competence of an editorial team is separating the relevant from the chaff and provide context. Simply put: Making sense of the world afar and close.
  4. The result of journalistic work – articles, analysis and comment – is independent of the carrier medium (i.e. print, digital, spoken word, moving images).
  5. An editorial team must cover a wide range of subjects to get to the heart of things and be able to provide context. Expert editorial teams on specific subjects complement a broad reporting approach.
  6. A reader is interested only in a subset of topics covered; the limiting factors being time and interests. Corollary 1: A reader wants to select her topics of interest. Corollary 2: An ideal news offering is a collection of topics a reader chooses to follow. (2)
  7. The reader expects each topic to be a continuously updated feed with factual reporting, analysis and comment.
  8. The reader decides through which carrier medium or combination thereof she wants to receive her information.
  9. The digital world is not something fundamentally new; the digital world only exacerbates this trend: In the digital world where news is abundant, the key factor is attention (Contrary to the physical world where scarcity is the limiting factor – 3).
  10. There will always be people willing to pay for attention. Either pay someone for organizing a limited amount of available attention or someone pays for access to attention.

Obviously we’re working hard to make this vision happen over at Memonic. Stay tuned.


(1) It is total nonsense to differentiate between a print and a online editorial team. It’s one news reporting organization regardless of output channel.

(2) A reader’s preferred subset is most likely not corresponding to the traditional sectioning of a newspaper in Politics (World, Home), Business, Arts, etc. Example: Reporting on the Euro crisis could be found in newspapers such as the NZZ, SZ, FAZ, Spiegel, NYT in the politics, business and feuilleton sections. The topic of interest though is euro crisis.  So why not simply offering exactly that: A follow-a-topic function allowing a reader to find everything relevant on say the euro crisis under that heading. And so it goes for every topic.

(3) In a sea of (digital) abundance it’s the attention that counts, as Michael Goldhaber pointed out in 1997. That is, in a sea of abundant ‘information’ on any event, with you having only so much attention to devote, you most likely turn to a trusted source of information for reporting and contextualization.


About dselz

Husband, father, internet entrepreneur, founder, CEO, Squirro, Memonic, local.ch, Namics, rail aficionado, author, tbd...
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3 Responses to 10 theses on the future of newspapers

  1. Till says:


    Very nice post and couldn’t agree more. Of course we think about similar stuff in relation to Paperboy, so I have done my share of thinking about the topic also and came to similar conclusions.

    1 through 5: 100% ack.

    Regarding focus on the topics a reader is interested in (point 6.): one of the main benefits of a “regular” newspaper or magazine I actually see in that it points me to stuff I did exactly not follow yet. There is also a “danger” that people lock-in too much on certain topics maybe. So I am always a bit unsure about this one. While some great recommendation and personalisation would be awesome, it should maybe always include some “surprises” or “random” stuff.

    To 9. and 10. I always wonder if this attention scarcity is really so new. In the last 50 years if you wanted you could access more information than you could handle in your life if you only wanted to. (Libraries etc.) And the information overflow currently affects only a certain group of people (yet). And there is already now a counter-trend, where some people decide to stop consuming news altogether (http://dobelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Avoid_News_Part1_TEXT.pdf).

    But definitely, journalists should focus on providing quality content. No matter which channel.

    What do you think?

  2. An excellent list, thank you very much!

    What do you think about the News+ concept (http://vimeo.com/17148059) which Bonnier developed?

    In terms of content, I always use Monocle (and their new radio programme: Monocle 24) as an example for excellent journalism, although (or maybe because) their digital strategy seems to be inexistant.

  3. dselz says:

    @Till: Correct, there is a danger of constriction, as I noted here: http://dselz.ch/en/2011/09/30/das-problem-mit-digitaler-personalisierung/ . If it’s only algorithms this is an issue (As the “cleaned” Facebook feed demonstrates). That’s why I think it needs human interposition to open up the perspective.

    Re Scarcity vs Attention. As said the digital age only exacerbates this trend. There was more music than I ever could have listened to before MP3 (and ever since). The availability was a different matter though. The digitization changed this drastically. All music is now available everywhere at any given moment. That’s why I think the attention issue is ever more important.

    Re Dobelli: True, “Britney Spears is overrated. IPCC reports are
    underrated.” Yet, as outlined above a good news organization in the future will have to focus on providing context. And context is more thank just factual reporting on what happened with Britney or the latest IPCC figures.

    @Christoph: I did not know of the Bonnier concept. Happy to see that media companies think along the same lines (at least in the Nordics, as my experience is that news organization in our whereabouts are rather more reluctant on this…) Indeed it is of similar intend. So I guess this just reinforces the points made in the post.

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