20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
3
2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
5
2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
6
2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

The death of the industry fad

“I’m afraid that as the people with the money keep scraping away at the edges, we’re going to see a lot less experimentation from mid-sized media outlets.”

For my first decade or so in journalism, I worked in newsrooms that printed and distributed free daily newspapers — tens of thousands of them, all in search of new ways to put advertising in front of readers. I was a print designer at the time, and I found the work more interesting than at a lot of the broadsheet alternatives, so I stuck with it across three separate papers.

Forgot about the free-commuter-paper boom? Well, it’s a reminder that the “pivot to video” was far from the first industry trend to sweep across journalism. (A few others I’ve dipped my fingers into over the years: hyperlocal news, real-time news, and email newsletters. The latter seems to be holding up — fingers crossed.)

The free daily newspaper took a couple of tough blows in 2019 with the deaths of the Washington Post Express, a paper I used to work at, along with the original Swedish edition of Metro, which kicked off the global trend a quarter-century ago. When we lost Express, one of the most successful American examples of the commuter paper trend, I felt compelled to write about it, of course. While free commuter dailies still work in some international markets, and some former free U.S. dailies (like Chicago’s Red Eye and Florida’s tbt*) have evolved into weekly arts publications, the embers in that fire are largely dying out. (Express, famously, blamed the smartphone on its final cover.)

As we mostly said goodbye to the free daily newspaper in the U.S., I wonder if it’s a harbinger of other ambitious risk-taking that’s set to fade out in the future — especially at the local level, where these publications (for example, my beloved former employer Link, published by The Virginian-Pilot between 2006 and 2008) really shone.

The industry contractions we’re seeing aren’t just limited to print or limited to newspapers. Those pivots to video turned into pivots to layoffs; we’ve seen private equity turn successful newsrooms, most infamously Deadspin, into zombies.

I’m afraid that, as long the people with the money keep scraping away at the edges, we’re going to see a lot less experimentation from mid-sized media outlets. Instead, it’ll be the domain of folks who don’t have money but are willing to work hard to do the innovating they can’t do on the clock.

New fads and new trends come to life when people have extra pockets of time to try new things. Think of Google’s ballyhooed 20 percent time. But when newsrooms are struggling to put out the daily product, I have to wonder: Will the experimenters start to go somewhere else?

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter.

For my first decade or so in journalism, I worked in newsrooms that printed and distributed free daily newspapers — tens of thousands of them, all in search of new ways to put advertising in front of readers. I was a print designer at the time, and I found the work more interesting than at a lot of the broadsheet alternatives, so I stuck with it across three separate papers.

Forgot about the free-commuter-paper boom? Well, it’s a reminder that the “pivot to video” was far from the first industry trend to sweep across journalism. (A few others I’ve dipped my fingers into over the years: hyperlocal news, real-time news, and email newsletters. The latter seems to be holding up — fingers crossed.)

The free daily newspaper took a couple of tough blows in 2019 with the deaths of the Washington Post Express, a paper I used to work at, along with the original Swedish edition of Metro, which kicked off the global trend a quarter-century ago. When we lost Express, one of the most successful American examples of the commuter paper trend, I felt compelled to write about it, of course. While free commuter dailies still work in some international markets, and some former free U.S. dailies (like Chicago’s Red Eye and Florida’s tbt*) have evolved into weekly arts publications, the embers in that fire are largely dying out. (Express, famously, blamed the smartphone on its final cover.)

As we mostly said goodbye to the free daily newspaper in the U.S., I wonder if it’s a harbinger of other ambitious risk-taking that’s set to fade out in the future — especially at the local level, where these publications (for example, my beloved former employer Link, published by The Virginian-Pilot between 2006 and 2008) really shone.

The industry contractions we’re seeing aren’t just limited to print or limited to newspapers. Those pivots to video turned into pivots to layoffs; we’ve seen private equity turn successful newsrooms, most infamously Deadspin, into zombies.

I’m afraid that, as long the people with the money keep scraping away at the edges, we’re going to see a lot less experimentation from mid-sized media outlets. Instead, it’ll be the domain of folks who don’t have money but are willing to work hard to do the innovating they can’t do on the clock.

New fads and new trends come to life when people have extra pockets of time to try new things. Think of Google’s ballyhooed 20 percent time. But when newsrooms are struggling to put out the daily product, I have to wonder: Will the experimenters start to go somewhere else?

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter.

Mario García   Think small (screen)

Sarah Stonbely   More people start caring about news inequality

Emily Withrow   The year we kill the news article

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Power to the people (on your audience team)

Colleen Shalby   Journalists become media literacy teachers

Helen Havlak   Platforms shine a light on original reporting

Talia Stroud   The work of reconnecting starts November 4

Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor   Think twice before turning to Twitter

Imaeyen Ibanga   Let’s take it slow

Jeremy Olshan   All journalism should be service journalism

Rachel Schallom   The value of push alerts goes beyond open rates

Logan Jaffe   You don’t need fancy tools to listen

Josh Schwartz   Publishers move beyond the metered paywall

Nicholas Jackson   What’s left of local gets comfortable with reader support

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, collaboration in a time of state attacks

Joe Amditis   Collaborative journalism takes its rightful place at the table

M. Scott Havens   First-party data becomes media’s most important currency

Nathalie Malinarich   Betting on loyalty

Seth C. Lewis   20 questions for 2020

Meg Marco   Everything happens somewhere

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   A changing industry amps up podcasters’ ambitions

Richard J. Tofel   A constraint of the reader-revenue model emerges

Nico Gendron   Make better products if you want to reach Gen Z

Alana Levinson   Brand-backed media gets another look

Kevin Douglas Grant   The free press stands against authoritarians’ attacks on truth

Sonali Prasad   Climate change storytelling gets multidimensional

Heather Bryant   Some kinds of journalism aren’t worth saving

Raney Aronson-Rath   News deserts will proliferate — but so will new solutions

John Keefe   Journalism gets hacked

Monique Judge   The year to organize, unionize, and fight

Millie Tran   Wicked

Brian Moritz   The end of “stick to sports”

Joshua Darr   All that campaign cash will make the media’s problems worse

Cindy Royal   Prepare media students for skills, not job titles

Cory Haik   We’re already consuming the future of news — now we have to produce it

Jonas Kaiser   Russian bots are just today’s slacktivists

Kathleen Searles   Pay more attention to attention

Lucas Graves   A smarter conversation about how (and why) fact-checking matters

Nushin Rashidian   Are platforms a bridge or a lifeline?

Joni Deutsch   Podcasting unsilences the silent

Pablo Boczkowski   The day after November 4

Geneva Overholser   Death to bothsidesism

Kourtney Bitterly   Transparency isn’t just a desire, it’s an expectation

Monica Drake   A renewed focus on misinformation

Ernie Smith   The death of the industry fad

Mike Caulfield   Native verification tools for the blue checkmark crowd

Jakob Moll   A slow-moving tech backlash among young people

Kristen Muller   The year we operationalize community engagement

Elizabeth Dunbar   Frank talk, and then action

Peter Bale   Lies get further normalized

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting finally creates another mega-hit show

John Garrett   It’s the best time in a century to start a local news organization

Craig Newmark   Formalizing newsrooms’ battle against disinformation

Whitney Phillips   A time to question core beliefs

Christa Scharfenberg   It’s time to make journalism a field that supports and respects women

Bill Adair   A Nobel Prize, a Brad Pitt film, and a Taylor Swift song

Alfred Hermida and Mary Lynn Young   The promise of nonprofit journalism

Catalina Albeanu   Rebuilding journalism, together

Annie Rudd   The expanded ambiguity of the news photograph

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists get left behind in the industry’s decline

Greg Emerson   News apps fall further behind

L. Gordon Crovitz   Fighting misinformation requires journalism, not secret algorithms

Madelyn Sanfilippo and Yafit Lev-Aretz   News coverage gets geo-fragmented

Jim Brady   We’ll complain about other people living in bubbles while ignoring our own

Francesco Zaffarano   TikTok without generational prejudice

Heidi Tworek   The year of positive pushback

Sarah Marshall   The year to learn about news moments

Ståle Grut   OSINT journalism goes mainstream

Alexandra Borchardt   Get out of the office and talk to people

Tanya Cordrey   Saying no to more good ideas

Carl Bialik   Journalists will try running the whole shop

Masuma Ahuja   Slower, quieter, more measured and thoughtful

Bill Grueskin   Our ethics codes get an overhaul

Felix Salmon   Spotify launches a news channel

james Wahutu   Western journalists, learn from your African peers

Jeff Kofman   Speed through technology

Tom Glaisyer   Journalism can emerge newly vibrant and powerful

Victor Pickard   We reclaim a public good

Matthew Pressman   News consumers divide into haves and have-nots

Matt DeRienzo   Local broadcasters begin to fill the gaps left by newspapers

Jeremy Gilbert and Jarrod Dicker   A call for collaboration between storytelling and tech

Jasmine McNealy   A call for context

Alice Antheaume   Trade “politics” for “power”

Candis Callison   Taking a cue from Indigenous journalists on climate change

Steve Henn   The dawning audio web

Tonya Mosley   The neutrality vs. objectivity game ends

Doris Truong   The year of radical salary transparency

Rick Berke   Incoming fire from both left and right

Michael W. Wagner   Increasingly fractured, but little bit deliberative

Rachel Davis Mersey   The business of local TV news will enter its downward slide

Marie Gilot   This is fine

Cristina Kim   Public media stops trying to serve “everybody”

Sara K. Baranowski   A big year for little newspapers

Errin Haines   Race and gender aren’t a 2020 story — they’re the story

Hossein Derakhshan   AI can’t conjure up an Errol Morris

An Xiao Mina   The Forum we wanted, the forum we got

Carrie Brown-Smith   Engaged journalism: It’s finally happening

Joanne McNeil   A return to blogs (finally? sort of?)

Elizabeth Hansen and Jesse Holcomb   Local news initiatives run into a capital shortage

Kerri Hoffman   Opening closed systems

Lauren Duca   The rise of the journalistic influencer

Nikki Usher   All systems down

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting gets listener relationship management

Meredith Artley   Stronger solidarity among news organizations

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The business we want, not the business we had

Zizi Papacharissi   A president leads, the press follows, reality fades

Julia B. Chan   We 👏 take 👏 breaks 👏

Mariana Moura Santos   The future of journalism is collaborative

Tamar Charney   From broadcast to bespoke

Margarita Noriega   The platforms try to figure out what to do with single-subject newsrooms

Adam Thomas   The silver bullet

Don Day   Respect the non-paying audience

Barbara Gray   Join local libraries on the frontlines of civic engagement

Sarah Alvarez   I’m ready for post-news

Knight Foundation   Five generations of journalists, learning from each other

Beena Raghavendran   The year of the local engagement reporter

Fiona Spruill   The climate crisis gets the coverage it deserves

Jennifer Brandel   A love letter from the year 2073

Ben Werdmuller   Use the tools of journalism to save it

Brenda P. Salinas   Treating MP3 files like text

Anthony Nadler   Clash of Clans: Election Edition

Simon Galperin   Journalism becomes more democratic

S. Mitra Kalita   The race to 2021

Sarah Schmalbach   Journalist, quantify thyself

Linda Solomon Wood   Everyone in your organization, moving toward a common goal

Dan Shanoff   Sports media enters the Bronny era

Mira Lowe   The year of student-powered journalism

Dannagal G. Young   Let’s disrupt the logic that’s driving Americans apart

Laura E. Davis   Know the context your journalism is operating within

Sue Robinson   Campaign coverage as test bed for engagement experiments

Irving Washington   Leadership isn’t something you learn on the job

A.J. Bauer   A fork in the road for conservative media

Stefanie Murray   Charitable giving goes collaborative