Newsprint is just the body; content, the soul, endures

“We will stop printing the New York Times in the future, the date TBD (to be determined).”
—Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in 2010 London International Newsroom Summit

Despite dark predictions about the future of print media, must response be to kill the newspaper and go online or, worse, just disappear?

Distinguish the newspaper’s content from the paper on which it is printed.
But first: the situation is far from desperate in the community press, most of which have been struggling all their publishing lives.

Community papers enjoy advantages over urban counterparts: a “time warp” that serves as buffer against new technology’s assault on old methods and an enduring kinship with its community of readers.

We don’t know how long that could hold the newspapers’ demise, but adopting some devices of new media would help community papers.

Going online is one measure. But there are other platforms, mostly mobile.

Journalists need not defect to the new media. Improving their skills at what they do best will upgrade content, which in turn can be packaged for the platforms that need it.

Devices

The trick is to adopt in print new media’s devices and open other platforms for print content, without abandoning the hallmarks that have made print content superior to many others.

Add platforms even as we may eventually lose print as a platform. Keep improving. Newspapers, the physical structure, may shut down. But newspapers’ content and the journalists who produce it will survive.

For now, a print editor may need to re-check readership profile and see that choices have shifted. Readers want:

  • Easy, quick access: additional platforms to make the paper available whenever and wherever needed;
  • Small portions: concise yet substantial, informative yet interesting fare;
  • Visual feasts: in photos, art, and graphics and in prose;
  • Useful things: best practices, survival guides, danger signals;
  • Conversations: readers and journalists talking, to stimulate debate, shape consensus

Strengths

Newspapers may adopt techniques of new media even as they must keep strengths of mainstream media.

Readers still want newspapers to be fair and credible, solid in reporting the news, clear in presenting issues, and courageous in protecting their values.

Readers still find newspapers easier to navigate, free of clutter, and can be trusted to account for what they publish.

A newspaper’s soul is its content. The paper on which it is printed is just a body, which might be discarded for more efficient bodies.

And the body is mortal. The soul endures.