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The Future of News(papers)

I'm back from a two-day Workshop on The Future of News, organized by the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University on May 14 and 15.

Ed Felten is the Director of CITP, in his dual role as Professor of Computer Science, researching computer security and privacy, and Professor of Public Affairs, interested in technology policy (see his Freedom To Tinker weblog). There aren't many places that combine this kind of hard-core technology engineering with considerations of social impacts, which makes for an exciting mix of interdisciplinary academics and students in the program, combined with speakers from the news business (mostly print), and other interested members of the public. (More on the founding of CITP from Princeton Weekly Bulletin.)

What was striking about hearing from these members of the news business is the similarity in their tales of woe to what we hear from the recording industry and the film industry. It's all bad news -- The physical media business is declining precipitously, sales are down, the customer base is getting older, the younger generation has moved on, kids today just snack at media and do not pay attention to longer forms, and, worst of all, the future promise of the digital side is not picking up the slack to close the gap... Sound familiar?

But even more, these industries also share a longing for the good old days -- when single-paper towns were the only outlet for classified ads, broadcast-only television meant you could choose only from one of three news shows during the dinner hour, and enthusiastic fans bought massive libraries of LPs and then replacement CDs. But the days of more than 20% profit margins on newspapers are long gone. (Paul Starr, the keynote speaker and Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton, quoted one old newspaper man as saying his fortune was built on the two great American values, monopoly and nepotism.)

The interesting difference between these industries seems to be the rate at which they are moving through the Five Stages of Grief as they lay the good times to rest:

The speakers at the workshop from the newspaper industry were moving beyond Depression to the final stage of Acceptance. They are biting the bullet to mask the pain as they cut deeply into operations, and are going forward and innovating to enhance their digital offerings.

In comparison, the recording industry clearly has moved beyond the first stage of Denial, but seems to be stuck cycling between Anger, Bargaining, and Depression -- as it still lashes out by suing its own customers, and grabs on to each next new copy protection scheme while simultaneously going DRM-free in other venues.

For more info:



- CITP will post presentations and videos from the event on its website.

- Kevin Anderson, Blogs Editor for The Guardian (UK) also did an amazingly thorough job of covering the presentations in depth on his Strange Attractor blog. Read it for almost a full transcript, complete with links to the speakers and extensive quotes and references from their presentations.

- Steve Boriss posted about his panel on his The Future of News blog

- JD Lasica, president of the Social Media Group and co-founder and editorial director of Ourmedia.com also posted a video interview with Ed Felten (also here).

UPDATE:

Tim Lee, TechLiberation: Culture Clash, and TechDirt: Unbundling the Newspaper

Technorati tag: FutureofNews08

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This entry posted on May 16, 2008.

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