Jeff Croft

I’m a product designer in Seattle, WA. I recently worked at Simply Measured, and previously co-founded Lendle.

Some of my past clients include Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and the University of Washington.

I’ve authored two books on web and interactive design and spoken at dozens of conferences around the world.

I’m currently accepting contract work and considering full-time opportunities.

Blog entry // 12.08.2006 // 1:51 AM // 22 Comments

Selected responses to Time’s “Future of Newspapers”

Tonight I read Time Magazine’s forum piece entitled The Future of Newspapers, in which several big-wigs talk about what comes next for the newspaper industry — and found myself alternately nodding my head in agreement and tossing up my hands in frustration. It’s astonishing that some of these people still don’t seem to get it. Some quotes and my responses after the jump.

The word newspaper is going to disappear. We’ll talk about ‘news’ rather than ‘newspapers’ because there are going to be so many other ways that people get their news. Newspaper companies are becoming information companies.”

— Scott Bosley, Executive Director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. In order to thrive, newspaper companies need to diversify into other mediums (TV, radio, magazines, and most importantly, the Internet), and create narrow-focused online sites covering specific niches for specific audiences (you’ll see some of this out of World Online very soon).

But we’ll continue to have newspapers in print because people appreciate the way they’re organized and the tactile experience. They’ll be smaller, slimmer and more targeted.”

— Scott Bosley, Executive Director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors

I also agree here. This Scott guy seems to be on the same page as me. Print news isn’t going away anytime soon. I do see it becoming more magazine-like, though — both in the physical sense and with regard to the content provided. I also see many daily and weekly print papers eventually becoming a “best-of” edition of the online version of the publication. Whereas an online publication might publish 50 stories, 150 photos, 500 user comments and five podcasts per day, for example, the print publication might choose the 25 top stories, 30 best photos, 50 great user comments, and transcripts of two of the podcasts to go in the next day’s print edition.

Newspapers have three attributes that will for a time, make them still relevant. They are low-cost or no cost, they are highly portable, and you can scan through more bits of information on a printed news page faster than you can on a PC, online, on a PDA or on a cell phone.”

— Andrew Davis, President of the American Press Institute

These may be three advantages of a print paper today (although I think most web-based papers are low-cost or no-cost, as well) — but all of them won’t be for long. Everyone knows that web browsing devices are getting more and more mobile every day, and advances in both hardware and web design will eventually make it every bit as easy to scan through an online edition as a print version. I hope Andrew isn’t counting on these three things to take him very many years into the future.

In 30 years, the Web will be a much stronger component, but you will still see a powerful print product that people want to pick up and read. ”

— John Kimball, Chief Marketing Officer for the Newspaper Association of America

In 30 years? 30 years? Seriously? I assert that within five years most news companies will see their online effort(s) as their most important asset(s) — if they don’t already.

If you take a look at our company, the Dallas Morning News, what are the things that are growing the fastest? Not the Dallas Morning News you get in a bag on the lawn. That generates a few hundred million in revenues, but it’s not growing fast. What is growing is Quick, a five-day-a-week free distribution paper, and Al Dia, a very serious newspaper, a Spanish publication we started a few years ago. ”

— Bob Mong, Editor of the Dallas Morning News

Again, this suggests that narrowly-focused publications are a key (in print or online). At World Online, we talk a lot about what we call “hyper-localism.” That is to say, we can’t complete with CNN and the New York Times on national and world news, but we can cover our local markets better than anyone else. You will almost never find a non-local story on the home page of LJWorld.com. Why? Because we don’t believe that’s what people come to LJWorld.com for. They come to us for news about Lawrence — they’ll go to CNN.com or similar if they’ll looking for national or world stories.

So, “hyper-local” is one way to go. But another is what I’ve been calling “hyper-topical.” Pick a single topic and cover it better than anyone else. Chances are,most newspapers already cover something better than anyone else. Make that — whatever it is — your niche. Figure out what it is and cover it more thoroughly than anyone ever dreamed possible. There’s no such thing as overkill.

Andy Grove went to the American Society of Newspaper Editors and told them [in 1999] that they had three years before their whole business would change. Well, they don’t have three years, they probably have 30 years ”

— Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California

These guys like this 30 year proposal, don’t they? He goes on to say:

Thirty years ago teens didn’t read newspapers, but they started when they reached their 30s. Today, teens don’t read newspapers and they never will. If there were a newspaper strike across America today, almost no one under the age of 30 would notice. ”

— Jeffrey Cole, Director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California

I’m not sure how this jives with his suggestion that newspapers have 30 years before their industry will change. To me, this means print newspapers will basically never get another subscriber. That means zero revenue growth on subscriptions — and actually, it means a decrease, because they’re going to lose subscribers to death and the Internet. Are your shareholders going to stand for that for the next 30 years?

But we need to train journalists for multimedia reporting. They need to move from being just print reporters to being comfortable taking photos and doing audio and video. ”

— Karen Dunlap, President of the Poynter Journalism Institute

Exactly. This goes along with the “there are no more newspaper companies, only news companies” mentality. All reporters need to be multimedia reporters. They need to be able to go out into the field, gather interviews in audio and video and edit them digitally, gather data and provide it to their website staff in machine-parseable formats, take photos and be able to crop and color-correct them, and engage in dialog with the readers (news should not be a one-way communication). Every reporter should be armed with a digital camera (still and video), a digital audio recorder, and a cell phone. The seems simple to those of us who already carry these things everyday — but convincing a writer who got into journalism 30 years ago because he/she loves writing feature stories is not so easy.

The newspaper industry isn’t in as much peril as some people make it out to be. But it’s clear that the industry needs to adapt — and while some news companies are doing a wonderful job, others either aren’t trying hard enough or simply don’t know what to do.

In some ways, I feel the local news sources actually have a much bigger opportunity to sustain their business online. In most smaller markets, there isn’t much competition. A newspaper company ought to be able to build the de facto online resource for folks in their community — they’ve already got a major leg up by having a strong brand and a wealth of content. The larger market news sources — those that focus on world and national news as much or more than local — are going to find themselves in a much more competitive online marketplace. I think they’re going to have to find other niches to focus on and make their own. They’re also going to find themselves in more direct competition with technology companies like Yahoo and Google (both also have their sights set on local coverage, as well — but I think they’ll be more a factor on the larger scales, at least for quite a while).

It’s an interesting and exciting industry to be involved in right now. I’m still pretty new to all this journalism business, having worked at World Online for a little less than a year. I’m no expert — but even still, I’m not sure all the experts quoted above really “get it,” either. Everyone is still feeling their way through this new media, it seems.

Comments

  1. 001 // Andy Rutledge // 12.08.2006 // 7:02 AM

    Nice piece, Jeff. I believe that the news industry is one of the more volatile today and in years to come. I think that given the inevitable, swiftly-coming changes in readership habits/preferences, once investors clearly see the handwriting on the wall, things will begin to deteriorate quickly for the standard news industry model.

    I also think it is rather irresponsible for newspaper moguls to be so cavalier and myopic about many aspects of their market. It will bite them, and soon. It is one thing to rally morale in an industry, but quite another to bury one’s head in the sand.

  2. 002 // Christy // 12.08.2006 // 8:35 AM

    I whole-heartedly agree!

    My previous career was 12 years in a large (#2 in the US) media company. The last 5 was as online operations manager for a local daily in a major market.

    Even when they appear to “get it” they tend to fall back into the older print ways. Online (or New Media) needs to be in their face 24/7 to keep them on track. You guys working at World Online are right on target imho.

  3. 003 // Henrik // 12.08.2006 // 8:42 AM

    But we need to train journalists for multimedia reporting. They need to move from being just print reporters to being comfortable taking photos and doing audio and video. ’

    Even more importantly reporters & editors need to be much more scientificly savvy in a broad sense. Story quality often suffers because the writers understanding is equal to or less than the average reader. The amount of junk put up as stories is scary.

    I wonder if that will ever change though, but you can always hope.

  4. 004 // Baxter // 12.08.2006 // 8:47 AM

    Interesting stuff. I disagree with you on scannability… I think dead-tree will be tops on that front for the foreseeable future. However, I think that’s trumped by searchability and customizability, which can keep me from HAVING to scan in the first place.

  5. 005 // Natalie // 12.08.2006 // 9:19 AM

    On the cusp of a great opportunity, this post is a light in a haze of indecision, informative, and motivating too (as news also ought to be, no?) ;) It’s incredibly encouraging to know the field I love so much isn’t one of those hanging in the dark [information] age, and that there are people and companies out there who are actively pushing the whole thing forward.

    Also encouraging is the confirmation that, contrary to what many web 2.0 followers believe, the web isn’t the only place to live and breath, that there is still a life in off-line media. Personally, I think the world would go to the crapper quicker if it didn’t spend a significant amount of time AWAY from the computer.

  6. 006 // Brian // 12.08.2006 // 9:37 AM

    Great comments, but I wonder if the ‘Hyperlocal’ approach does not have one weakness, which is economic. No traditional business organization can afford to provide the level of coverage for a typical “hyper local” subject that a dedicated amateur can. Sure a media organization can cover the local little league and do a good job, but if there is a truly dedicated parent for example, they are likely able to provide more in depth coverage and for no real cost, it might be viewed by them as a hobby. Obviously this is where user created content comes in, but the ‘blog’ evolved in to the unofficial local little league portal poses a threat to traditional news organizations. With the power of search engines, RSS and the ease with which the web allows for ad sales to generate revenue, I see the potential revenue streams for advertising being under threat from ‘businesses’ that simply don’t have any real overhead. Consider the audio equivalent. Podcasts are poised to threaten traditional radio in a big way for all these same reasons. What happens when Google or someone develops audio based adwords type revenue opportunities for podcasting. It all boils down to eyes, ears and how a source can differentiate themselves.

  7. 007 // Mark Otto // 12.08.2006 // 11:23 AM

    I also agree and disagree with many of those points. For one, online news outlets seem to be some of the most trafficked/used news sources out there. Websites of newspapers are somewhat awkward today and seem to be falling behind, despite their best advancements.

    Take for instance streaming media and widescreen layouts. They are catching on, but a bulk of them are stifled by pixel-width limitations, a poor layout of information, and most importantly, simply bad presentation (across the board even, in screen, mobile, print, etc). Instead of focusing on developing their online presence, they instead focus on networking and appealing to what they believe to be the next best thing (i.e., streaming media).

    Granted ideas like streaming media seem well and good, most of them are extremely limited. Video feeds often require subscriptions, fast connections, and are usually stripped down versions of a better, more thorough printed version.

    Newspapers in general just seem to be falling behind, and their attempts at getting back on track seem to be just a waste of money and effort. Slimming newspapers down to save print costs but making more room for advertisements and redesigning their newspapers to try to appeal to more people seem to only show that newspapers are still losing ground as the standard means of gaining information.

    My biggest pet peeve with newspapers online attempts is the lack of flexibility. They often don’t use semantic markup, compact as many advertisements as possible into their pages, and poorly present information across various mediums. It’s a downward spiral for newspapers, but at least some progress can be hoped for.

    (Was that too long of a comment?)

  8. 008 // Matt Howell // 12.08.2006 // 12:02 PM

    It’s going to be fantastic when technology improves to the point where we have e-book readers that are light, thin, foldable, in color, and have a large enough screen to accomodate a full page of paper. (Think of the newspaper in the subway in Minority Report.) That will an amazing moment — when you can have 90% the benefit of paper (no glare, easy on the eyes) — but all the benefit of digital. It’s not all that far in the future either.

    (Of course by the time that happens, the business model and delivery model will have already changed for quite some time — those changes are vital and necessary and happening yesterday.)

    Before too long, the “press” will be a misnomer — and paper will be another tool relegated to stationary and art stores.

  9. 009 // Ranjani // 12.09.2006 // 6:02 PM

    Ugh, I read newspapers all the time; I find piles of them in all of my classrooms. I actually prefer them to reading news off of the newspaper’s website, because the website always has the feeling of being too cluttered. Not many newspaper companies have perfected that art the way they have cultivated their skill with printed text.

    Reading newspapers isn’t going to go away, regardless of how mobile the web becomes. In five years, I could have a way to access the Internet from my car (providing I have one). But I feel newspapers are still too traditional, especially in our culture, that we will continue to use them. They’re relatively inexpensive and the ease of reading them is increasing as new designers try their skills in the printing industry.

    The only problems I foresee are environmental. As the threats of global warming, mass deforestation, extension etc. grow, people are going to see the Web as a new solution, which might put a strain on the news industry in many ways. But I feel, with all our paper wastage on a general basis, production of newspapers won’t be affected versus, say, production of school and business supplies (my god, the hallways at my school are covered in papers; it’s painful).

    Great article, though. Thanks for reminding me that dwellers of the upper echelons of certain businesses actually can possess brains.

  10. 010 // Jeff Croft // 12.09.2006 // 11:15 PM

    I actually prefer them to reading news off of the newspaper’s website, because the website always has the feeling of being too cluttered.

    Indeed. But stay tuned — we have something in the works at World Online that may surprise you. :)

    Reading newspapers isn’t going to go away, regardless of how mobile the web becomes.

    I dunno about that. If a digital tablet felt like paper, folded like paper, and was as light as paper — would you still rather have real paper? If so, why?

    It’s a ways off, but I have no doubt that eventually digital will super-cede paper. Probably not in the next 10 years — but eventually.

    :)

  11. 011 // Ranjani // 12.10.2006 // 11:08 PM

    Oooh, innovations! Definitely interested :)

    Well, I’ve always been a weird traditionalist and paper is just one of those things I can’t help but love. I mean, I’m the one who tears the seasonal Office Depot catalog out of my dad’s hands when he’s taking mail out of the mailbox. I have no doubt that I would use these digital newspapers, but in my heart (cheesy, I know), I’d still prefer the paper. Nothing like getting black inky marks all over your hands!

    But hey, instead of photographs, we might have video segments, and that’s pretty cool!

  12. 012 // Charlie // 12.11.2006 // 2:51 AM

    I’d like to pick up on the point Jeff makes in number 10. At the moment the newspaper and print media experience is tactile, portable and effortless. Regardless of what state of technical awareness you are in, you’ll always be able to turn a page. Not so with the vast majority of technical devices currently on the market, regardless of size or type. They are bulky, un-intuitive and instantaneous connectivity is either expensive, difficult to configure or unobtainable

    Jump forward to the devices Jeff mentions. Wafer thin, power efficient with seamless connectivity, not only to the web, but to each other as well. As the technology that enables us to digest the news evolves so will the nature of the public perception as to the medium the content is delivered through.

    This is what the Newspaper industry is forgetting. It’s not about the web alone, it’s about the creation of a device than is a no harder to understand than a piece of paper, yet has infinitely more uses.

    At the moment one of the most ambitious developments seems to be driven by what has the opportunity to become the greatest act of philanthropy in modern times. MIT Media lab’s One Laptop Per Child project (also refer to as the $100 laptop project) looks set to create cheap wireless laptops powers by clockwork. These devices will then be distributed to children in the poorest countries, bringing the Internet to another billion people.

  13. 013 // Mary Renee Smith // 12.11.2006 // 7:34 AM

    What disturbs me is the lack of discussion about content. Does it matter what form the information delivery takes if all we are getting is public relations vomit and slick media manipulation?

    It seems we are so caught up in the “new media” forms of delivery that we have forgotten it all comes down to old fashioned reporting that just isn’t being done anymore.

  14. 014 // David Airey // 12.15.2006 // 8:01 AM

    Good point Mary,

    Too many of the world’s top media organisations are corrupt. What we discover, rather than how, that’s the important question here.

  15. 015 // Stephen Van Dahm // 12.15.2006 // 5:01 PM

    Jeff writes:

    I dunno about that [the idea that reading newspapers isn’t going to go away]. If a digital tablet felt like paper, folded like paper, and was as light as paper — would you still rather have real paper? If so, why?”

    But will they be as expendable as paper? I don’t know that people want another expensive electronic device to carry around. It used to be that all I really needed to do was keep track of five keys and a wallet. Now, wherever I go, I need to keep track of the following:

    • Wallet
    • Keys (along with the keyless entry device for my car)
    • Cell phone
    • iPod
    • USB Flashdrive

    It’s getting out of hand. A digital tablet might make it easier to browse through the news, but I don’t think it would be worth the inconvenience of having to carry it around with me, occasionally worrying, “holy crap, it’s not in my pants pocket, I hope it’s in one of my coat pockets or else at Joe’s place because if I left it on the bus, I’m screwed.”

  16. 016 // Jeff Croft // 12.15.2006 // 5:10 PM

    But will they be as expendable as paper?

    In time, I’m sure they will be.

    I don’t know that people want another expensive electronic device…

    Expensive? I highly doubt these things will be expensive.

    Now, wherever I go, I need to keep track of the following:

    Would you need all those things if your digital table was all of those things? You’re assuming these things are going to be expensive and not going to handle other computing tasks. I think they’re going to be dirt cheap.

    You’re also saying you’d have to carry them in addition to all the stuff you carry now — but don’t you have to carry a newspaper in addition to that stuff, as well? So that’s kind of a pointless argument. And really, who do you know that carries a phone, an Pod, and a USB flashdrive with them at all times? I don’t know anyone that does that.

  17. 017 // Stephen Van Dahm // 12.18.2006 // 1 PM

    Would you need all those things if your digital table was all of those things?”

    No, and I totally agree that the ideal would be some sort of integrated digital device that does everything we need. I guess the biggest obstacle to this is corporate politics. Many of the features that are built into my phone were disabled by Verizon because they’d compete with (or render obsolete) pay services that they offer. Apple’s iPods, to my knowledge, only sync with iTunes, and even then only with a single computer. None of this directly relates to device integration, but I think it shows that the major players who could make this happen have some interest in maintaining control over the use of their products and in keeping other major players off of their turf. I think that we could have some pretty sweet device integration right now if the right companies would cooperate.

    You’re also saying you’d have to carry them in addition to all the stuff you carry now — but don’t you have to carry a newspaper in addition to that stuff, as well? So that’s kind of a pointless argument.”

    Maybe. I guess I’m not worried about carrying things as much as I’m worried about leaving things on the bus or at a bar. If I accidentally leave my copy of City Pages on the bus, that’s not a big deal. It’s more of a problem to lose my cell phone.

    And really, who do you know that carries a phone, an Pod, and a USB flashdrive with them at all times? I don’t know anyone that does that.”

    In the Twin Cities, where I live, it’s about a 70 minute bus ride from my apartment in Saint Paul to my office in Minneapolis. On those kinds of trips, it’s nice to have those things with me (I use the flashdrive as a briefcase to carry files between home and work). That’s also the time when I’d most like to read the news (either a real newspaper or with a digital tablet). But I guess you’re right that most people don’t do this.

    I actually agree 100% with your overall points and am disappointed that our local newspaper doesn’t see things your way.

  18. 018 // Kevin Wohler // 12.19.2006 // 11:51 AM

    I agree with Mary that enough emphasis isn’t being put on content. The biggest problems I see with web news are: 1) writing (lack of adherence to style, misspellings, bad grammar), and 2) editorial process (anyone can comment on anything).

    My biggest problem with hard “news” online is that it tries so hard to be immediate that good writing goes out the window. On CNN.com, I see numerous misspellings, poorly written leads, and bad grammar. Doesn’t anyone use a spell checker? No, because it seems that content management systems don’t worry about stuff like that. Or, if a spell checker is available, the writers are too lazy to use it. (Case in point, check Jeff’s blog for errors.)

    Jeff said that news is a two-way communication. No, opinion/editorial is two-way. News (reporting) is making a statement of fact. If you want to hear other people’s opinions, turn to the op/ed page. With the advent of blogs and bulletin boards, people seem to think opinion is more important than good, old-fashioned reporting. I disagree. The news is already so biased and fragmented that it is nearly impossible to discern the truth. News reporting needs to return to reporting. Stick with who, what, when, where, and why. Leave the discussion to the bulletin boards.

    The LJWorld.com and lawrence.com allow people to comment on a story for everyone to read. While this does instill a sense of community to those of us reading the article, it is hardly good journalism. It’s blurring the line between fact and fiction by suggesting that Bob123’s insight into the story is as valid as the article written by the seasoned journalist.

    Not only should news and press releases should be treated as two separate things, news and opinion should be on two separate sites. Don’t confuse a news site with a bulletin board or vice versa.

  19. 019 // Jeff Croft // 12.19.2006 // 12:06 PM

    2) editorial process (anyone can comment on anything).

    Not sure I see this one as a problem, per se — but it’s definitely a factor.

    On CNN.com, I see numerous misspellings, poorly written leads, and bad grammar. Doesn’t anyone use a spell checker?

    Yeah, this is frustrating to see coming from “serious” news sources.

    No, because it seems that content management systems don’t worry about stuff like that.

    Content management systems shouldn’t have to deal with that. Content management systems are for managing content, not creating it. Microsoft Word still has a spell checker, last I checked.

    Case in point, check Jeff’s blog for errors.

    Yeah, but a personal blog is a little different, isn’t it? Why should I be held to the same editorial standards as a seasoned reporter for CNN?

    No, opinion/editorial is two-way. News (reporting) is making a statement of fact.

    I don’t really agree. News can be two-way, as well. There are great citizen journalists out there, and we’d be crazy not to include them.

    With the advent of blogs and bulletin boards, people seem to think opinion is more important than good, old-fashioned reporting. I disagree.

    I disagree, too — but opinion is still worthwhile.

    It’s blurring the line between fact and fiction by suggesting that Bob123’s insight into the story is as valid as the article written by the seasoned journalist..

    If we “blur the lines” here, it’s not intentional. It’s hard for me to believe anyone is actually confused into thinking that Bob123’s thoughts are held to the same editorial process as our reporter’s. But if that’s actually confusing, it’s something we need to fix. As for whether or not Bob123’s comments are “valid” — why aren’t they? They may not have been put through the editorial process, but that doesn’t make them invalid, does it?

    Not only should news and press releases should be treated as two separate things, news and opinion should be on two separate sites. Don’t confuse a news site with a bulletin board or vice versa.

    Disagree completely. Journalists have been in the business of doing opinion since the beginning of time. I’m not sure why we’d change this now…

    Thanks for the comments, Kevin! :)

  20. 020 // Nathan Smith // 02.25.2007 // 1:14 PM

    I agree that 30 years seems a bit long, but bear in mind that the writers are probably thinking in terms of the time it takes a generation to reach maturity. Meaning, when we were kids there was no Internet, but the children of today are growing up in an age where the word 56k does not ring a bell. In our always-on, plugged-in society, by the time these kids reach our age - news and video on the web won’t be the hip new thing, it will just be the way life has been for decades.

  21. 021 // Unternehmensberatung Russland // 02.02.2009 // 2:04 PM

    Nice to read your blog :)

  22. 022 // Ecommerce // 02.09.2010 // 5:23 AM

    The future of newspapers has been widely debated as the industry has faced down soaring newsprint prices, slumping ad sales, the loss of much classified advertising and precipitous drops in circulation. In recent years the number of newspapers slated for closure, bankruptcy or severe cutbacks has risen—especially in the United States, where the industry has shed a fifth of its journalists since 2001. Revenue has plunged while competition from internet media has squeezed older print publishers.

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