Philip Meyer's "The Elite Newspaper of the Future" (October/November) was very enlightening to me, but perhaps not in the way he intended. I absolutely agree with his assessment that "the newspapers that survive will probably [have] some kind of hybrid content: analysis, interpretation and investigative reporting in a print product that appears less than daily, combined with constant updating and reader interaction on the Web." And I agree that "the information age has created a demand for processed information. We need someone to put it into context, give it theoretical framing and suggest ways to act on it." Newspapers' core audiences will indeed be "the educated, opinion-leading, news-junkie" people who "demand ... quality" that goes beyond "stenographic coverage of public meetings, channeling press releases or listing unanalyzed collections of facts."
But rather than being earthshaking in itself, I would argue that his apparently recent realization of these truths of the modern media market tells us a great deal about what has gone wrong in the mainstream media. Meyer's ideas could have been taken verbatim from the editorial and business plans of any of the hundreds of alternative newspapers around the country – many of which have been flourishing for years.
Now comes Meyer, saying the work we in the alternative press have been doing for years is the "future," even the "elite"! The daily papers that have turned up their noses at our work may now not only acknowledge our existence, but deign to follow our lead in search of what we already have: a sustainable model with extremely high print readership and rapidly growing audiences online!
Which is all by way of saying Meyer is absolutely correct – just incomplete. And in the name of completeness, I want to note that his piece does one disservice to leaders of daily newspapers, by suggesting the solution is a matter of developing "hybrid content." Not quite. The solution, for many of you, is figuring out what is actually happening in the communities you wish to serve, and how to reach people who have long since given up on you. But you'll have to compete with those of us who are already doing it.
This note is in response to Philip Meyer's article "The Elite Newspaper of the Future." It's very interesting to see a deeper historic analysis of newspaper readership ebb and flow, particularly the link between readers and quantity of reporters. Similarly, he makes a good case for newspapers holding "all of their eggs in one basket," by leaning heavily on classified advertising over the last 25-plus years. While I agree that newspapers must cut out a niche of core strength, I differ strongly from Meyer's point that core function is community influence.
I work at Outside.in, which is a Web site that aggregates both newspaper stories and blog posts about neighborhood happenings, and organizes them by location. Readers of the site can get a city, neighborhood or even block view of news happening around them. This facilitates the simple sharing of local news and members of a community becoming better informed and connected to one another. Citizen journalists have stepped into the role of hyperlocal news reporter, when local papers have cut resources, shied away or simply ignored certain local beats. These folks provide a great service to their community, and in some cases have acquired hundreds of thousands of readers to their credibility, timeliness and, yes, trust.
As an alternative, I believe the real core strengths of national papers are deep investigative journalism and the editorial section. As Meyer points out himself, the "educated, opinion-leading, news-junkie core of the audience" will continue to demand quality reporting that has a high barrier to entry (sending reporters across the state and country; giving them time to report a story; having close ties with important entities) and high expectation of accurate , unique, and informative reporting.
Brooklyn, New York