Can design really save the newspaper?

April 5, 2009 at 1:29 am 6 comments

How long will the newspaper survive in its current form, is a question that many people have been increasingly asking for the last few years. Who wants to pay for yesterday’s news, asks Jacek Utko in this talk at TED.com. What, if anything, can newspaper owners and publishers do to ensure its survival. Many suggestions have been made – make newspapers free, change the size, make them local or community driven or even opinion-driven instead of news-driven. Perhaps they should only serve niche areas.

Jacek Utko is a very talented award-winning Polish architect turned newspaper designer. He believes that design can be the saviour for the newspaper industry. He has redesigned several newspapers in Eastern Europe resulting in as much as 100% increased circulation for at least one Bulgarian newspaper, and upto 35% of an increase for other papers in Russia and Estonia.

In this talk Jacek Utko suggests that in order for newspapers to reconnect with their readers, they need to redefine themselves. So before he even looks at revamping the design of a newspaper, he sits down with the senior people at the newspaper to assist them in taking a fresh look at their goals and business objectives. The second step is for the content to be analyzed and adjusted in accordance with the new goals. Only then does he look at radcially transforming the design. The idea really is to improve the product completely.

Jacek believes that a change in design not only improves the product, it improves the workflow and the branding, and even changes the company and the people who work there.

Will this kind of design and content change really save the newspaper? Or is it just going to delay the inevitable? Certainly worth pondering on.

Is the survival rate for newspapers going to be different in developing countries, where some say newspapers are still thriving. Personally I am not sure they are. Those of us who are computer literate and have access to computers have stopped buying newspapers for our homes and offices. We prefer subscribing to newsgroups and newsfeeds and occasionally we pick up one of the better newspapers simply out of curiosity. If we have a preferred column in any of the daily newspapers, we read it online. Most young people never did read newspapers and now with the option of the internet where they can access news on topics which appeal to them, they really have no interest in newspapers other than looking out for employment ads on sundays – even those can be accessed through jobsites now. There was a time our parents encouraged us to read newspapers to improve our language skills. I doubt most parents would want to do that today given the state of newspapers in this country.

As for those with no access to technology, the older generation are reading newspapers and will probably continue to do so – many have turned to radio and television for a lot of the news and analysis – such as it is. The others will slowly gain access to technology as prices of desktop computers, PDAs and smart phones continues to drop. As for the illiterate population, newspapers have never really had a role to play in their lives except for one literate person in a community reading a paper out to them. The proliferation of television has reduced that to a large extent.

Newspapers really do need to reinvent themselves no matter which part of the world they are published in. They will not disappear totally because there will always be a segment of the population who will want newspapers in paper form. However the commercial viability of such media will be in question as significant numbers of people access news in more interesting ways – on their computers and their mobile phones.

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Does everything need to be inaugurated? Do you really want to think outside the box?

6 Comments Add your own

  • Can design really save the newspaper?…

    How long will the newspaper survive in its current form, is a …

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  • 2. Anthony Mitchell  |  April 5, 2009 at 2:46 am

    When was the last time you read a newspaper or news magazine? After you’ve been reading and writing high-impact memes of 140 characters or less, how does it feel to be exposed to offline feature writing? What is your attention span for that material now? In 140 characters or less, please.

    While the newspaper industry is struggling to invent a better Apple II, the rest of us have moved beyond the walled garden and into a Mongkok jungle of high-energy communication that we can customize for our own minute-by-minute needs.

    Newspapers, if they wish to survive, need to move ahead of us and anticipate how global communication and news will function in the future. They need to welcome us to the future rather than drag us into the past.

    If I were an APNS member, I would partner with Ufone, Telenor, Zong, Mobilink etc. to provide subsidized kindle-size handsets to subscribers, upon which they could receive news, write news, film news, and become the news. The newspaper would serve as the dumb pipes, directing ad flows, marketing tie-ins and monetization.

    The handsets would be easily upgradable, locally manufactured, and with the android operating system. Accessories and extras such as cameras and word processing software could be sold or given away. Of course they would serve as cell phones and soon as video phones as well.

    The newspaper would not be the bank, but could serve as the brand or co-brand of the bank. The newspaper would not be the credit card company, only the issuer or the brand. The handset would function as the credit card, the micropayment device, the mobile teller machine and the UPC bar code reader.

    Newspapers could retain small news staffs, largely serving as editors for third-party content. The highest CPM-rated writers could remain, but with an eye towards CPA too. For example, writers about real estate and financial services would have their ad streams marketed on different price scales than the prices garnered for local news (which competes with and is strengthened by UGC).

    Once this model is implemented locally, it can be launched globally, with tremendous profitability. APNS members: you know how to reach me.

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  • 3. Can design really save the newspaper? | Tea Break  |  April 5, 2009 at 6:21 am

    […] This cup of tea was served by: In the Line of Wire […]

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  • […] George’s Meanderings created an interesting post today on Can design really save the newspaper?Here’s a short outlinePerhaps they should only serve niche areas. Jacek Utko is a very talented award-winning Polish architect turned newspaper designer. […]

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  • 5. Can design really save the newspaper? « HRM09-IMSC  |  April 5, 2009 at 11:08 am

    […] design really save the newspaper? Source: In the Line of Wire – Jehan Ara blog How long will the newspaper survive in its current form, is a question that many people have been […]

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  • 6. Vic  |  April 5, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    One of the oldest newspapers in this region is what is known today as The Times of India. If one looks at photostats of the way it looked over 150 years back, it is totally surprising.

    Questions about relevance of content, relevance of delivery systems, relevance of commercial support systems (sustainability) are woven into the tapestry of change implicit in the transformation of a single broadsheet to a multiply paged newspaper.

    Today, what remains of the India of those days is one of the most newspaper-rich countries in the world, and the number is swelled by vast issues of non-daily news and current affairs periodicals. Similar patterns are seen in the other nations carved up 60 years back. Can this last much longer, as you ask?

    If the question is confined to: can newspapers continue to sustainably deliver timed news and opinion on paper, the answer is: probably not. For one, the production of paper cannot keep up with the projected demand for information of an increasingly aware global population. But that is a quibble, because some other laminate could probably be invented or discovered that did the job as well. Maybe even better.

    More importantly, the need is itself changing, with new materials that are being created beginning with the premise that re-use and recycling capability are critical inputs.

    Right now, the Kindle and Sony Reader are low on the development curve, but they achieve a high degree of capability to deliver the convenience of paper with the advantages cited in the previous paragraph.

    Similar forms of epaper will certainly develop, synergising the demand of people who already want much more than the typical newspaper can deliver – including better language usage! – and with the format, different delivery systems will evolve. Some of these will match the current business paradigms of newspaper/media organisations, some won’t, and that will give rise to new paradigms.

    One predicted transformation of the news organisation is beautifully captured in EPIC, one of the most creative editorial/essays I have ever seen.

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