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The newspaper is dead. Long live the newspaper (Part 1)

Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, unveiled its new design and editorial format. Two things surprised me about the newspaper: the new printing quality of the physical paper, and the announcement they are streamlining the content to make it more graphical and faster to read. As part of their unveiling, the paper also mentioned that they would be spending over $1-billion dollars on a 15-year contract for the new printing technology. A bold move at a time when everybody is predicting the demise of the newspaper.

The question is, why would a newspaper’s board approve a massive redesign and significant capital expenditure at a time when the traditional newspaper industry is headed for extinction? Won’t the newspapers be replaced by Google and other online information services?

Before we write off newspaper, let me make a case for why the newspaper might be around for a little while longer, albeit in a different form and serving a different function than we see today. In order to do that, we need to look at how new media displaces not replaces and older media.

Radio vs. Print
Up until the 1950’s, radio was the primary way of receiving information and entertainment. People huddled around the radio set to not only get news and information, but also radio dramas and comedies. The information was fast, up-to-the- minute, and easy to digest. At the time, people said it would be the end of the printed word and ruin the fine art of conversation. But the newspapers kept on going, because they provide images and deeper content.

TV vs. Radio
Then along came television. Pictures and sound delivered vivid images of the day’s events. Why would you ever want to listen to the radio when television provided everything you would ever need? But the radio did not go away. It found a new place in our cars and on the go. With the advent of the transistor, radios became mobile and so you could take the information with you as went about your day. When I am in my car listening to a traffic report, I am reminded that radio is not going away anytime soon.

Internet vs. Television
But then along came the Internet. Today, the world’s information is a mouse click away. Google provides you with an index to unfathomable amounts of information. You are not limited to three daily newspapers, or 30 radio stations, or 300 television channels. The Internet ushered in a radically different way people consume information, and in spite of the Internet, television has not gone away. It has just found a new place on the media landscape. My daughter watches as much TV as I did as I did when I was her age, she just does it on her laptop. Modern Family is still produced by the same TV network, but now it has multiple ways of reaching its audience.

The reality is a new media does not replace an older media. It just displaces it and redefines its value. In the end, the audience wins because they are given more ways to receive their information and entertainment.

This brings us back to the newspaper. I don’t think it is going way soon, but I think it will change. I think The Globe got it half right. A faster, more graphical reading format is a welcome addition. As people in the business of making things clear, we love this move. The big bet on the fancy printing technology, not so much. It might attract some viewers, but its real purpose is to sell premium brand ads. This strategy will give them a short-term revenue boost, but will it be enough to sustain the printed word on paper?

The reality is there is still a market for good journalism and in-depth articles, but maybe not on a bulky piece of newsprint, and that physical newspaper might not be delivered to our door every morning. That will go the way of milk and bread delivery. What you might see is a smaller, faster, easy-to-read paper that we grab as we jump on a subway and skim for a few minutes. The rest of the day, the paper would live on your laptop or iPad. All supported by good old journalism and its necessary sidekick, advertising.

This is part one of a two-part story on the state of the newspaper industry. Part two continues.

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