What Is A Newspaper?

All the news that’s fit to print…. or other stuff also?

In 1452 when Johannes Gutenberg first laid paper on inked movable type, he printed a bible.

He printed a bible because that was the only kind of book he, or anyone else for that matter, had ever experienced. Hence, it came to define ‘book’ for him.

The day after Gutenberg printed his first bible, he could have printed The New York Times.

I mean there is no reason why he could not have printed The New York Times. He had all the technology he needed to produce the paper down there in his basement in Mainz.  He could have gone out on the street with the Mainz Week in Review, or the Magazine Section, or Real Estate, or Style.

But he didn’t.

He didn’t, not because it was not possible. He didn’t because new technologies don’t come with instruction manuals on ‘best use’ of this tool.

That is the hard part. And that is left to us.

It would take 350 years to get from Gutenberg’s printing press to The New York Times.  The first newspapers don’t begin to appear until the late 18th Century.

Now we are faced with the Web – truly an invention as revolutionary and disruptive as Gutenberg’s press. And like Gutenberg, we stare at it, but can only see it is a tool for reproducing (perhaps less expensively) that with which we are already deeply familiar – newspapers.

‘Let us take away the paper entirely and distribute the paper on the web’ we say.

Perhaps so.

Or perhaps this is simply a case of printing bibles when the technology could allow for much more.

Take a look at any newspaper’s website online, and what do you see?  A newspaper, but transformed onto your computer screen.  Many still in black and white – and in text, with photos.

But the web is a far more agile machine. It can do so much more than simply replace trucks and printing presses.  Along with distribution, it brings people in … in real time.

and it does video, quite well.

Instead of jamming newspapers into the web, which is really not such a good fit, is there a way to look at what the web can do and grow a new concept of ‘newspaper’ out of the technology?

There will always be a need for information; for a process that can draw together communities.  Newspapers are machines that send people out into the community, gather information, and return it processed and comprehensible, and trustworthy.

Can we transform newsapers from paper and ink makers to digital information nodes? Processors of community based content – text, video, graphics, audio – that is curated (thank you Jeff Jarvis), processed, edited and returned? Not just in paper and text but in any medium (and in any way) that the needs of the community demand?


Why don’t newspapers send videographers to weddings, charge for the service, deliver a dvd and post the content?

Instead of cutting the movie reviewer, why don’t newspapers become nodes where people in the community can ‘rate the movies’, like a Zagat, before someone else gets there?

Doug McCormick, who made both Lifetime and iVillage in major successes told me that most people buy newspapers for the ads as much as for the stories.  The ads tell them what is on sale at Bloomingdale’s, what’s playing at the local theater.

So charge Bloomingdales to send your video team over there to make a spread about this week’s sales. Then post it. We are in a non linear world, and a competitive one.  If Bloomingdale’s has video on your site about what’s on sale, then maybe Barney’s should do the same.

You’ve built the machine. Now put it to work.

The ‘newspaper’ of the future is about more than just covering the city council meeting.

And if you don’t do it, trust me, someone else will.

Just ask Craig Newmark.


4 responses to “What Is A Newspaper?

  1. Does Craig Newmark cover news?

    I didn’t think so.

    Does Craig Newmark and his Craigs list offer anything but ads?

    Doesn’t seem so.

    I agree with much of your post today.

    However you seem to be going a little beyond the point and comparing apples and oranges.

    When Craig, and his list, begin to offer information and interviews as well as ads, then your comparison will be valid.

    I also cringe, just a bit, when you deride coverage of city government.

    That is important information for any citizen to be, well, a citizen.

    To encourage derision of events like those government meetings, to me, seems like you prefer infomercial style news which doesn’t have any real value other than features.

    Feels good but allows important issues to go unnoticed and, in effect, allows less oversight by those who are supposed to really be in charge in this country.

    The voters.

    But like I said, I liked your post today other than those minor issues I’ve raised.

  2. Here’s my local newspaper – they struggle with news, so video might be too ambitious…..


  3. The announcement by The Christian Science Monitor to go online only in April 2009 is a ground breaking announcement – what are your thoughts, Michael?

  4. Pingback: Breaking With Old Media

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s