Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Times, et Al, They Are A-Changin'

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Times, et Al, They Are A-Changin'

Article excerpt

Newspapers: A 2020 vision

The American Press Institute last year invited 25 journalists to attend its J. Montgomery Curtis Memorial Seminar on the future of newspapers. The seminar included an intriguing mix of editors, publishers, educators, designers, and a kilt-clad Scot from Microsoft who showed off an e-book.

The participants' ideas and examples of what a printed paper in the year 2020 might look like resulted in a book, "2020: Visions of the Newspaper of the Future." Moderator John Finneman summarized the results:

Smaller newspapers, not just in web width, but in number of pages; front-page advertising a much stronger presence than in the past.

Customized papers in both print and electronic form; free newspapers and newspapers delivered any time of the day.

A hefty dose of bar codes, briefs and indexes; multiproducts delivered in multiple languages.

Zoned publications; high-scale and humble community newspapers.

As the designer of the book, here is what I said in a foreword:

"How we think the future ought to be and how it will be rarely turn out to be the same. Economic and sociological realities and not the futurists' visions determine the result.

"Surprisingly, the 2020 participants take into account many of these realities. Their view of the future went beyond how a newspaper in 2020 might look to how a communications company of the future (and indeed present) should act.

"Two major and opposing themes emerged: Killing trees has no future; digital does.

"The nagging question of newspapers' existence in the year 2020 remains unanswered; 20/20 vision is always better in hindsight. It is my experience that questions worth asking seldom offer neat answers and themes worth pursuing rarely offer neat endings, happy or otherwise."

What strikes me now, reviewing the participants' essays and examples of their front pages, is how much more interesting in content and design they are from what you'll find in American newspapers.

Designing interests

If the 1970s and 1980s saw a heightened interest in newspaper design in the United States, the 1990s witnessed a marked decline. Not so long ago, innovations --not only in design, but also in content and news coverage -- were the norm. All this, of course, has changed for reasons too complicated to tackle here. The talk of the town these days is the 50-inch web and, well, the Web.

Today, you need to look to Europe for interesting developments in news design. The good news is that journalists there are enthusiastic about exploring new strategies in storytelling, connecting with readers and, in the case of the Web, viewers. There is a bias for arts and for design in particular, which I think is a byproduct of European culture and education.

In the United States, however, as newspapers become multimedia organizations and news folks continue to morph from journalists to personalities to content providers, more pressure is put on the working stiff's time. Less time is spent gathering and presenting the news.

What we frequently end up with, however, is decoration masquerading a thin news report, but with links to the Web. There are serious economic ramifications: A decline in readership results.

Now here's the point I'm trying to make. I am completely committed to the idea that news organizations must embrace new marketing strategies and continue to make profits. …

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