If you asked me what are the three main challenges of any newspaper company today, my answer would be:
All of them are unavoidable. The first one must be led by owners, CEOs, and publishers. The second one needs the understanding and full support of top editors and general managers. And the third one, the most crucial one, the participation and involvement of all journalists.
Bosses can rule on vision, strategy, integration, and media architecture — but only with all your journalists aboard your company will be able to develop new editorial models.
Why? Because most of your editors, writers, reporters, and visual journalists came to your company when the print newspaper had an editorial model that for centuries nobody challenged. Newspaper newsrooms were, and always will be, the “core” of our news business. They were the best to find, select, write, edit, and design news and stories that your readers couldn’t find anywhere else.
For this reason, we presented ourselves as “newspapers of record.” Something that, today, we aren’t anymore. As The New York Times says: “We don’t record the news. We find the news.” A training manual for new Financial Times journalists is very clear on this point: “News reporters do two things. They find the news and they write news. The first is hugely more important.”
In the past, every 24 hours, our newsrooms were able to produce a print newspaper with exclusive content, and readers needed to pay for our daily selection of the most relevant and interesting news and stories of the day before.
But that model has crashed. It’s dead and doesn’t work anymore. “Yesterday’s newspapers” are worthless. Our readers today get almost all their news in real time: news, opinions, and yes, instant analysis. So they don’t need us anymore — unless we are able to produce a 100 percent different, compact, and compelling new print product.
They’re drinking news from the firehose and what they are requesting from us is the “day after” newspaper.
A newspaper for well informed readers, not the ignorant. A newspaper for new audiences fed 24/7 by new digital media outlets. A newspaper for new communities able to share news, opinions, and comments in social media networks. A newspaper that breaks the news online and on other realtime platforms. A newspaper that produces multimedia packages on the spot. A newspaper that has iPad and tablet editions, early in the morning, at lunch time, and in the evening.
Yes, this is cannibalization at its best and its worst.
For all these reasons, if we don’t change the editorial model, our print product becomes just a compilation of old news, known stories, and heard comments. Dead bodies. Forensic journalism. Outdated content that nobody needs, nobody will pay for, deserted by advertisers that will realize that we are losing ground, not having anything new, unique, and necessary to buy our print paper.
The answer to all these challenges is, again, what we at Innovation call the “day after” newspaper. A post-news, post-television, post-radio, post-online, and post-social media paper.
A newspaper with a daily briefing with the last 24 hours’ news presented in a very compact and creative way, plus more and more exclusive and unique stories produced by entrepreneurial journalism. A newspaper with more whys than whats. A newspaper with smart and provocative news analysis. A newspaper covering new lifestyle and social trends. A newspaper full of reliable advice. A newspaper with briefings and explainers.
A newspaper with just the most relevant “cover stories” of the day. Listen to Chris Hughes, the Facebook cofounder: “We believe that there must remain space for journalism that takes time to produce and demands a longer attention span-writing that is at once nourishing and entertaining.” This must be, he says, “vigorous contextual journalism.”
A newspaper that will excel at database journalism and fact-checking. A newspaper with enlightening infographics, amazing photo essays, and unique illustrations.
A newspaper full of surprises. A collector’s paper, full of what I call caviar journalism.
Of course, this new editorial model will require new newsroom management workflows. A newsroom that works 24/7 in two different speeds and paths: a fast-cooking digital newsroom and a slow-cooking print newsroom. Both of them working in an integrated and collaborative way — interacting with readers, audiences and communities in a non-stop process where the “article” is no longer the final output, replaced by a succession of different formats and reporting styles.
This requires a new generation of content management systems, a multitasking newsroom, and planning, planning, planning. It is a great opportunity to develop explanatory journalism, strategic journalism, precision journalism, and anticipatory journalism. Journalisms that cannot be done on deadline.
In this new model, planning is a must. Perhaps 80 percent of the “day after” newspaper must be planed at least with two weeks in advance.
More than 20 years ago, I was invited by USA Today’s graphics director Richard Curtis to attend one weekly lunch with the editors of the four main sections of the paper (News, Money, Sports, and Life) where each presented the five cover stories planned one week in advance. Their experience, they told us, showed that 90 percent of the time the pre-selected stories would be published — with big breaking news of course taking priority where necessary.
A few years ago Bill Keller, then The New York Times’ executive editor, said that “stories about how we live often outweigh stories about what happened yesterday. We think it’s okay to include in our front-page portfolio something that is fun, human, or just wonderfully written. It’s part science, part art, with a little serendipity.” He added:
The notion of a Page 1 story, in fact, has evolved over the years, partly in response to the influence of other media. When a news event has been on the Internet and TV and news radio all day long, do we want to put that news on our front page the next morning? Maybe we do, if we feel our reporting and telling of it goes deeper than what has been available elsewhere. But if the factual outline — the raw information — is widely available, sometimes we choose to offer something else that plays to our journalistic advantages: a smart analysis of the events, a vivid piece of color from the scene, a profile of one of the central figures, or a gripping photograph that captures the impact of an event, instead of a just-the-facts news story.
These practices are not all new. In part, it’s doing daily what news magazines were doing weekly. And keep in mind that many successful weekend newspapers have done this for decades. These editions excel on unique, entrepreneurial journalism.
Our own experience running newspaper workshops shows that journalists are ready to master this new editorial model, and that they have enough creativity and experience to transform their papers. What they need is time to think, discuss, and create — plus some training and new talent.