On the future of print media

We live in an age when newspapers are posting videos on their websites and TV news channel websites are publishing articles and long-form editorials. They are turning into each other and what they are becoming is something entirely different from what either used to be. What is missing from the equation is words on paper.

Newspapers seem to have lost the race for breaking news. Where they haven’t lost this race, growing internet penetration will make sure that they eventually do. The reason, for the most part, is limitations of paper as a medium. That is not to say that television media is not dying. TV news is evanescent — it flickers past the screen and is gone forever. The viewer can’t go back to what he saw a moment ago and he can’t look up what he saw a few days ago. TV media has a time limit and has to function within it. Much like newspapers have to function within their respective space limits.

The web, as a shared platform for all manner of content — written, audio, and video — offers traditional media outlets a stable replacement for their old and limiting containers. The condition of course is that they stop being what they have been till now. A TV channel will not remain a TV channel once it embraces the digital envelope, nor will a newspaper continue to be a newspaper once it gives up the limits of its paper body. They will simply be media outlets — one next to another — with no differences except those that they choose to wear for purposes of identity.

People (often journalists) grow sentimental at the mention of newspapers dying, but they are thinking more about paper than about news. Your copy of the daily newspaper may very well be replaced by a mobile app pretty soon, but this does not necessarily mean the death of all things print. It just means that print will stop being the vehicle for content that the web is a better vehicle for — information on real time events. Print can still be a solid presence in the market by focusing on content that is perhaps slightly more timeless than daily news.

In newspaper terms this means that the front page, which until now had been dominated by headlines screaming about what had happened the day before, will need to accommodate opinion pieces and editorial analysis. Print publications, in order to survive, will need to turn themselves inside-out. They will need to highlight authoritative opinion and devalue fact-based reportage.