Into the crystal ball

One of the things we’re enjoying this spring at Minot Daily News is the presence on staff for a couple of months of a temporary employee who just happens to be a very bright local high school student with an interest in print journalism. I won’t embarrass her anymore than that and will let her introduce herself to you in the newspaper in the next few weeks.

However, this aspiring writer asked a question this week – a loaded question at that – which I thought would be an interesting one to tackle in this week’s Editor’s Notebook.

The question: “Is there a future for newspapers?”

Out of the mouths of babes, huh? That exact question is the subject of discussion in newsrooms and in publisher’s offices all over the world. Furthermore, it is an entirely logical question.

As I’ve written before, newspaper certainly has changed in the past several decades and continues to change. It faces numerous existential threats, for sure, and not the least of those is that many people, particularly younger people, access their news and information through different delivery systems. This past year, I have also shared ideas on how Minot Daily News is evolving to navigate these complicated new industry waters.

That said, my answer to this student is the same one I routinely give. This is not to say that I have all the answers to the many questions that face the industry. Hardly. Rather, I know what I believe to be true and it seems logical.

Yes, newspapers will continue to exist in the decade(s) ahead, but probably with some real changes.

People will always want news and information from around the world and their communities in particular. As long as media provides the news and information (with just a touch of entertainment, let me add, in recognition of 21st century realities) that people want – for which there is demand – then newspapers will continue to function. Some observers make the mistake of thinking that since newspaper circulation is down that people aren’t consuming the content at all, preferring to keep up with the Kardashians in pop culture “news.” I don’t think that’s true, though. In fact, I think technology has democratized information and that it is entirely possible that people are consuming more news and information than ever before!

They’re just getting the same content as 50 years ago (and much more) through different delivery vehicles – digital ones.

You might think of newspaper as a product. It isn’t. It’s a service. Print is just the delivery vehicle for an industry that is really built around creating content. Content is always going to be in demand, regardless of how it is delivered.

That leads us back to potential changes in delivery systems, which might seem like a huge change to the consumer and make no mistake it is a huge change for the industry in general. But it isn’t that great of a change for reporters and editors, who are content creators.

If I had to look into a crystal ball and predict 10 years in the future, I would see a world where print daily newspaper has fewer hard copy readers but far more digital consumers than exist now. Today, most news products have digital presences that augment the print product. Maybe in 10 years, the opposite is true. Today, generally consumers have to seek out the news and information they want, whether online or on the paper on their front step. Maybe in a decade, subscribers have it delivered to their home A.I., and Alexa or Siri will read it to them over morning coffee. Maybe a consumer fills out a preference form and only the categories of information he or she wants is subsequently used for a personalized podcast.

More than likely though, the technology based aspects of a change in media is something I am way, way underqualified to predict.

No one really knows what the future of newspaper will look like exactly. Still, I am confident that it will exist in one format or another. Hopefully that will encourage fine young people with a passion for news and for writing to make the commitment it takes so that they will be a part of shaping all of our futures.