By Eva Dou
Job hunters know to have a ready answer when recruiters ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
As for where the industry itself will be in five years, that’s a much harder question.
Panelists did their best to peer into their crystal ball this week at workshops on the future of print. Though the picture is blurry at best, there was one thing everyone could agree on – any good print strategy must include a good digital strategy.
That plan should include embracing bloggers rather than ignoring them, says Mike Fancher, former Seattle Times executive editor and adviser to the Knight Commission.
With newsrooms cutting costs, many newspapers no longer can cover local neighborhoods as thoroughly as they once did. At the same time, hyperlocal blogs have sprung up to fill the niche.
Newspapers like The Seattle Times have started tapping this local resource with partnerships. Bloggers provide local coverage, while the newspapers drive viewers to the blogs.
“In an interactive world, success will come from working very effectively with people who once were your competitors,” Fancher said.
Mark Potts, a former journalist who co-founded WashingtonPost.com, agrees that newspapers of the future will need to rely more on partnerships with the community. He sees newspapers having an increased role as aggregators and curators, pointing out the best content on the Web.
Newsrooms are also looking at mobile apps as potential money-makers, said Niala Boodhoo, a radio reporter for WBEZ in Chicago and former Miami Herald reporter.
While web surfers are used to content being free, many people don’t seem to mind ponying up for mobile applications. This has led newspapers to roll out local sports-related apps, such as the Miami Herald’s $1.99 Dolphins football app and The Seattle Times’ $2.99 Husky app.
Charging for online news is a more controversial topic. The mention of the word “paywall” brings a storm of debate at every turn.
Those in support of paywalls say news organizations can’t continue giving away their content for free.
“I absolutely believe in paywalls and the sooner the better,” said Anh Do, managing editor of LA Spot.us, a community-funded news source.
Others argue there’s no way to start charging now that viewers expect online news to be free.
“I’m skeptical of paywalls and anything that stands between people and information,” Fancher said.
Potts noted that publications with successful paywalls, such as the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times, frequently provide information that helps people make money. They also offer specialized content that readers can’t obtain elsewhere.
Less specialized publications would have more difficulty earning enough from paywall subscriptions to offset the drop in viewership and ad revenue, Potts said. An important litmus test will be how The New York Times fares when its paywall goes up in January.
Overall, panelists say the outlook is rosier than a year ago, with more companies hiring at this year’s convention job fair.
“I’m pretty optimistic that there will be new business models that develop,” Fancher said, “because I think the public and society want and need and value journalism.”