Sunday, July 15, 2007

Newspaper Next...

There are so many things a journalist has to be that just weren't on the radar when I graduated and got my first full-time newspaper job in 1992. Here's a couple more to add to the list: innovator and entrepreneur.

This struck me last week as I was reading the Newspaper Next report that came out in August 2006. The study was commissioned by the American Press Institute to figure out ways that newspapers can reinvent their business and content to survive and prosper in this turbulent era. No matter whether you agree with it, it ought to be required reading for anyone working at a newspaper these days.

I downloaded it because the paper where I work full-time, is about to embark on a process of "blowing up" the entire paper in the wake of our latest layoffs. Over the next three or four months, we'll be re-examining and re-imagining every part of our business using the Newspaper Next process.

I have some criticisms of the NN outlook. But on the whole, I think it provides some important, and hopeful thinking. What I particularly liked were a couple things.

First, it reminds me that the reasons people used to read newspapers went beyond just the news that people like me wrote about. They came for a variety of reasons, from reading the comics, to getting the school lunch menu, to finding out about events in their community, and to buy and sell things. We've lost our monopoly on all these things, not just news reporting. Overall, the newspaper was the thing that tied together and defined a community. News is just a part of this equation, though an important one obviously.

But second, as we try to rethink out business, the NN process tells us to figure out what "jobs" we can do for people, with the goal of finding new services to provide. I think there a lot of these, actually. And this makes me hopeful about the future of newspaper. Actually, it makes me incredibly excited. With all the technology available, and all the information on local communities sitting around newspapers, there are a lot of opportunities. It won't be easy, by any means, but it's possible.

But turning my eye back to this project, the Next Newsroom, it also makes me realize that preparing a college journalist for the future means instilling that instinct for innovation and entrepreneurship. They will constantly have to be reinventing themselves, and their industry. It won't be an option just to pound out a few stories and leave the rest to others. Everyone will have to be a part of the process, or it will stall and fail. And newspapers will place a high premium on people who can not only report, investigate, and tell stories, but also identify services and communities that a newspaper could serve.

The trick now: How to incorporate that ethic into the ideal newsroom?

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