Leading journalism analyst Ken Doctor will help kick off AAN’s Web Publishing conference with a big-picture talk on the future of news as we enter the first truly digital news decade. He will speak on the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 28 at the San Francisco conference, which you can find out more about here and register for here (early registration discounts have been extended until this Friday).
Doctor, who co-founded the now-defunct Oregon alt-weekly Willamette Valley Observer in 1975 before moving into a long career with Knight Ridder, will expand on themes he lays out in his forthcoming book, Newsonomics: Twelve Trends That Will Shape the News You Get, which tackles how we’ll receive — and produce — news in the near future.
We recently caught up with Doctor via email to find out more about his book, and how he thinks alt-weeklies are positioned to emerge in the digital future.
At the risk of glossing over it, can you briefly describe the thrust of your new book? It’s about the digital transformation; that much is clear. But is this mainly targeted towards editorial staffs? Publishers? Or is there a little bit of everything in there?
All of my work is about the nexus of business and journalism, hence the tagline for my Newsonomics.com site (launching soon): “How the emerging business of digital news shapes what we read and know.” So the book lays out the both the business models, the journalism models and importantly the resulting gaps we now face. It’s intentionally a tweener book, meant for people inside and outside the profession, business people and reporting grunts.
We hear quite a bit about the future, and it is often said that the future of journalism is in niche properties and local news. Do you generally agree with that?
[There will be] lots of different futures.
For instance, one chapter in the book talks about the Digital Dozen, the biggest global news purveyors, whose opportunity is greatly multiplied by digital distribution. The New Local is my rubric for the increasingly crowded local digital editorial and commercial marketplace.
Niches of every kind will thrive because of the built-in targeting abilities (many to one) of digitally distributed news media. Of course, it’s not that mass will go away, it’s just differently parceled out, so for instance if you are Bloomberg News, you are now finding ways (Business Week, TV, radio, tablet to come) to take that mass of content and get it to lots of different kinds of readers at differing price points.)
If indeed the future is niche and/or local, what’s your take on how alt-weeklies are positioned to embrace this transition? Obviously our industry is faced with a ton of new web competitors, but then again, many of our papers have spent 30+ years building a dominant niche/local brand. How can we leverage that and successfully move it into digital?
It’s the both/and strategy, easy to philosophize about and harder to execute. Older media — including alt weeklies — always have tendency to milk what they’ve been successful at, with readers and advertisers. In both the events/entertainment and local news spaces, we’re seeing revolutions in user-generated content, mobility, and advertiser experimentation, just to name three.
Brand and legacy can both be leveraged, but usually act as anchors with all successful legacy media. The key is pretending you are a start-up, not an incumbent, but building a new local medium with the passion that built alt media long ago. Then take that pretension seriously, graft and grow from there.
To register for the Web Publishing conference, click here. For more on Ken Doctor, visit his website.