Tomorrow’s News

With the Blog Awards approaching, it’s time to revist an idea I’ve been toying with for some time.

Blogs are fine, but even the finest blog in Ireland has a limited readership. Unless yuou’re lucky, you may never stumble across some of the best writers out there. The result? many well written articles are overlooked.

There are ways around this. RSS, Google Reader or Twitter feeds can direct attention to good articles, but it’s still hit and miss.

Then I saw this: The Future of Newspapers by Simon McGarr. Imagine a box which printed a newspaper on the spot for you, compiling your favourite bloggers into a familiar newspaper.

And eventually, I came across this: The BBC reports on a London startup printing twelve page newspapers to order.

And this: A customisable newspaper from Germany compiling articles from different journals.

I believe there’s a market for Sceptical News, analysing the news, debunking myths and spin, offering an alternative take. And there’s no one as skeptical as a decent blogger.

Imagine a newspaper where the editor is replaced by a curator, taking the best of Irish blogs to produce a weekly, or even monthly publication.

Well, would you pay for that?

Published by Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and tweeter, yet still finds himself underemployed. Go figure.

7 replies on “Tomorrow’s News”

  1. I hate to rain on a parade but I don’t think this has a future. You talk in your piece about well written articles being overlooked. This is tricky in itself.

    There’s a difference between fine writing and journalism, and Peregrine Worsthorne, the former editor of the Telegraph, makes the point in the Penguin Book of Journalism that not only are fine writing and journalism different, they may in fact be mutually exclusive.

    Good writing doesn’t do it as journalism. But if you were to sell good writing, is there a market for it in Ireland? I think the country is too small, and the number of people in Ireland who could tell the difference between good and middling/downright bad writing to the extent they’d put their hands in their pockets is tiny.

    How many people change readership of their paper to follow a writer in Ireland? Very few I’m afraid.

    The danger of customisable news is that instead of giving you the news and informing you about the world there’s a very real danger that all a service like that might do is re-enforce your existing prejudices.

    The absence of full dialogue between ideologies is one of the most worrying things about the US currently, where people decided if they are left or right, and then tune in to Jon Stewart or Bill O’Reilly to have that original decision confirmed. It’s a way of closing minds, rather than opening them.

    I’m sorry I can’t find anything more positive to say, but I don’t think this is a runner I’m afraid.

  2. Sorry for cross-posting, but I had to get this off my chest!

    I really think you keep overestimating the profit margin on made-to-order stuff. If you print the damn thing full-colour, it will cost 15c per A3 double-sided in paper, ink, maintenance and depreciation before you start. Black and white would be 8 or 9c cheaper, but who wants B+W in this day and age? Then distribution. 55c a copy to deliver a specific item to a specific person on a particular day, minimum. That is what An Post charges, and their hit rate is only about 80 percent. They would be doing you a big favour to bother taking it on at any price, because you would mess up all their distribution deadlines. They really want the mail in the sorting centre by 7pm, which is damn all good for a daily newspaper.

    Then selling subscriptions. It is hard to sell a subscription to a newspaper, especially to an Irish person, whose planning horizon is based on how long it takes milk to go off. You will need to reward your sales team very well. I would say you would be looking at paying them 150 euros for getting someone subscribed at a subscription rate of 500 euros/year. So you only actually get 350 euros. And I forgot, there’s VAT on newspapers, so you actually get about 300. How many of these would you ever sell? I’d say you’d be extraordinarily successful if you ever got 10,000 subscriptions, even if the subscription cost were below 50 euros/year. Remember, we are talking niche here, not mass market, in a market that isn’t even that big to begin with. The Week, which is the closest thing to what you are talking about in conventional media, does 500,000 in circ, mainly subscriptions. That’s in a counry of 50m people. Those guys have been doing that thing for years, and it is a really first-rate publication, with proper editorial management and everything (which this wouldn’t have and wouldn’t claim to have).

    If you only go weekly, it gets worse. It will be really hard to sell a newspaper for more than 2 euros, and that won’t deliver much revenue at all.

    Also, this newspaper will lack the key selling point of newspapers – referenceability. Most people couldn’t be bothered with the paper. They only read it so they know what other people have read and so they can engage in social intercourse with them and understand the context of other media coverage. It’s function is primarily social rather than informational. Imagine the social intercourse with this newspaper – ‘Did you read the article in McGarr weekly about the Black Panther group organizing in Poland?’ – ‘No, that wasn’t in my edition.’

    Another key selling point of newspapers is thereness. You go to the Spar shop, and it’s just ‘there’. You look at it and buy it even if out of curiousity, and if you like it, you buy it again. But this is a service, not a product. There is no ‘it’ to be ‘there’. So you lose out again.

    All in all, I think the ‘Newspaper Club’ guys have the right idea. They’ve identified paper newspaper publishing as what it really is – an expensive hobby. -.

    What is the point of this tirade of thinly veiled invective? To set the stage to tell you all about an extraordinary invention – ‘The Internet’. It will do away with the need to print information and to have men running around sticking it into letterboxes.

    Eventually you will actually be able to access all the information you need from a little box you carry around. I believe this invention may even lead to a revolution in publishing. I think this is what you are looking for. Look at the likes of http://www.netvibes.com/, a home page that evolves and takes in the information you are interested in. This might or might not be the future, but custom-printing dead trees in the dead of night is definitely not.

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