Future of newspapers – future of media

There is interesting trend in media going on.

Look at Newsweek and Time magazine. They both changed to more serious publications, longer texts, more opinions, analysis, less color and graphics, less news… So weekly magazines want to be like monthlies.

When you look at monthlies they more and more resemble books, photo albums. They want to be timeless…

And newspapers? Newspapers copy magazines. They’ve been doing it for last few years. Not internet, magazines are primary source of inspiration when it comes to editorial and design ideas. If you ask how newspapers will look in the future, look at old Newsweek.

And who will learn from newspapers? Websites! They need a lesson about presentation, about showing the relevance of a news, importance of a day. Websites must get out of the box named: template design.

So it is a wheel when each and every publication wants to be someone else. Analog media want to be more serious, slower, less newsy. Because they know that news will be digital, on the web or tv.

The way for newspapers is: less news, more knowledge. So we should start making usepapers rather than newspapers.

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Who is killing newspapers?

1. Editors that write for themselves or their colleagues. Pick exclusive stories over relevant ones. Lost contact with readers and dont try to reestablish it. Ignore readers perception, spend most of a time writing and editing, forgeting about presentation. Working out of habit, giving readers stuff about politics and all other typical though irrelevant topics. Waiting for news to happen, for VIPs to say something stupid.

2. Designers that wants to be artists ignoring storytelling. Caring more about competition entries than readership. Placing photos and graphics only as page composition element. Not reading their paper, not investing into their editorial skills, not being part of editorial planning and discusions.

3. Media managers paralyzed by crisis. Believing that cost cut is the only answer. Being affraid of any change. Knowing how their future car looks like but having no idea about future newsaper. Talking loudly about business models, being silent about the product. Waiting…

New 21st century journalism needed!

Old journalism is dying or died already. Just reporting news in print or even interpret the world is not enough. Simple headline and text can be displayed on any cell phone screen. Why are we so stubborn to continue doing what other media do better? And faster.

Is citizen journalism by OhMyNews.com in Korea a real 21st journalism? Will it save news and media? Partly yes. But I have another thought.

Why not take advantage of print paper format and do what other media can’t. Tell the story the way that websites, iPhone, tv or radio – just can’t.

What is it?

Creative journalism. Making something out of nothing. Not reporting reality, creating it. Writing about topics people want to read. Helping them to make life decisions, giving them insights.

News section in print? Oh my God, nobody is going to read it soon.
I’ve seen all these headlines yesterday, on the web. I need something different. Added value.

To do it best, we should take advantage of print paper format. Show multi layered, multi angel presentation. Intro, sub stories, many headlines, graphics, boxes, quotes. Use tools to sell story, to inform in a fastest way. Use full spreads. Take advantage of a scale. Something that can’t be shown elsewhere. Only this gives reason for newspapers to survive!

The fate of the newspaper

Read exclusive interview with Jacek Utko on TED blog

(go to TED blog page)

Matthew Trost: Debates on the fate of newspapers seem to get quite emotional.

jacJacek Utko: Yes. You can see discussions on this in a lot of blogs and forums. Many people think that newspapers have to survive because they have a mission for society, for democracy. Most of them say that newspapers should stay because, if newspapers die, nothing will replace them.

But that’s not actually true. It’s already slowly being replaced by the Internet. Blogs, for example, are an opinion-making medium. They’ll probably become more powerful than the newspapers themselves were.

I think we should all accept the thought that, one day, there won’t be any printed newspapers. There will be niche products for smaller groups — exclusive things that are reminders of the old times. But I don’t believe the general newspapers, in the state that we know them now, will survive.

When will the newspapers finally die?

The Western world has the most complicated situation. People have stopped buying newspapers. The papers in America will die in five, maybe ten years. Who knows? But there are some parts of the world where newspapers will be successful for the next many years. There, newspapers can easily make money.

utko2small.jpgThink about Asia — regions in China or the Middle East — where Internet coverage is not yet so high. Newspapers there are just becoming an interesting medium for advertisers. But the success we’ve had in Central Europe, doubling circulation in some countries, would be impossible to repeat in Western countries. Newspapers will die in some regions and blossom in others.

Does your background in architecture affect what you design?

My work is more structured than work by designers with more artistic backgrounds. As I said in my presentation, you must work with both function and form. You must always ask why something looks the way it does: What is the purpose of this object or building or product?

You can see my architectural background on the pages I create. You can see the navigation scheme, the structure. I like to play with what you might call the architecture of the page.

Having been an engineer helps me talk about the business and marketing issues. I treat these as other problems to solve. I don’t think about “Art,” about doing something cute. I’m always thinking about solving problems, and design is one of the tools for this. I can easily talk about business goals, research, data. For me, that is quite natural. It’s definitely an advantage that I’m not a typical artist or graphic designer.

What is the “egotistical” approach you mentioned in your talk?

It’s politically correct to talk about teamwork and convergence between editors and designers. It’s an old issue, the idea that we would merge the two departments and make journalism more visual. Now, I do agree with this philosophy that says visual journalism requires more teamwork.

But, in my personal experience, the best things I’ve ever done are not the fruit of teamwork. They were the fruit of closing myself in a room, not speaking to any editor. I would think of a good headline myself. This would produce the award-winning covers.

utko3small.jpgCommunication with the readers in a personal way is important. When you use teamwork, the message becomes not so clear anymore. There’s a compromise between 20 opinions, and you can see that compromise in the outcome.

Yet I don’t do the work just because readers love it. I do it because I like it. I have to find some personal satisfaction in this work. Making front pages like this brings me a lot of satisfaction.

Talk about this conflict between the design end and the editorial end.

The conflict is diminishing, but it has been very strong in the last years. Writers don’t like you. They treat you as an enemy, because they believe in words, and they believe you’re cutting the words. They don’t believe that people don’t want to read more text.

People need entry points to text. People look at headlines. People avoid long stories. There are many proofs for this, such as eye-tracking research. Editors often don’t understand this. They don’t treat a designer as someone who is a marketer of their text, who is trying to sell their text better.

This is also the designers’ fault. Some designers are not journalists; they only think about their pictures looking good. But readers do look at papers for more than just beautiful art. They look for the content.

utko4small.jpgThe future of media is where people realize that how content is sold to the reader is equally important. During consultations, much of my time is spent not just working on visuals or illustration or infographics. It’s spent on displaying the content better, working on elements of text like ledes, intros, sub-headlines, middle intros, quotes, pullouts, boxes. Making it more digestible, more friendly.

Magazines are also facing trouble. Thoughts on that?

Newspapers will always be the first to have trouble, while the magazines will remain. The experience reading magazines — especially ones with beautiful pictures — cannot be replaced on the web.

Magazines like Newsweek — news-opinion magazines — can be replaced on the web because you can find this content easily. But, tell me, how can you represent an artistic approach, such as is used in magazines, on the web? Looking at pages in a sophisticated monthly, with cultural graphics and beautiful photos — this model still makes sense. People will buy it. Web design doesn’t yet give you this experience.

What would you have said, had you gotten two extra minutes on the TED stage?

I don’t know about two. Now, if I had five more …

OK, then, let’s say we gave you five more.

There’s one interesting thing I would have given another whole presentation about.

Newspapers, just before death — since we agree that, sooner or later, they will die — just before death, they blossom, design-wise. Never in history has design and visual journalism been as good as it is now. This happens not only in Western Europe and America, but even more in countries in Latin America. Asia is waking up; they will do beautiful stuff in the near future.

People perceive newspapers as boring pages with letters, but I can find so many examples around the world of sophisticated, artistic, beautiful work. They’re not dying because they’re not good. They’re dying because of more general reasons connected with technology and behavior.

Just before newspapers die, they come to highest possible level of development.

Is there something you dream of redesigning?

When you look at existing media, you see newspapers with long traditions, design untouched for years, like the New York Times. That would be a challenge. Working with a special, old-style design for a paper which, at the same time, is a high-quality product. For sure, they have to change something to survive.

I’d like to work on finding tools for web news presentation that could compete with the design of newspapers. So far, web presentation is light years behind newspaper design. You don’t feel the importance of news on the web. Every day is the same. Stories are sold in the same, templated way. Just one day in the year — with Obama’s inauguration — you could feel the difference. The other 365 days look the same: flat, bland, boring. That’s the huge disadvantage of web design. I’d love to explore and find new web tools for designers and editors to present their stories in a more appealing way.

I would love to be engaged in some kind of think tank on what will be the future of media. Will there be anything like newspapers in the future? Or should we forget about it and just think about the web?

What will be the next step? A plastic screen with WiFi that we all carry around, with a touchscreen? Or will we only use mobile phones? Some people say laptops are already history, and that the future is on mobile phones. It would be amazing to try to find a prototype for that future.

Can design save newspapers?

See my TED Talk from conference in Long Beach, CA.

click to watch the video

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