The day I bought my iPad was the day I began questioning my lifelong commitment to reading several print newspapers a day. For some people, it was the digital subscription app and the interactive crossword puzzles from The New York Times that did it. It took being able to get Wired magazine's videos and other multimedia on the iPad for me to really grok life without print subscriptions. Tablet computers may be the long-awaited electronic newspaper delivery device.
In fact, the very idea of a daily edition of a newspaper is a dated concept. The newsprint my dog brings me every morning is merely a snapshot of what happened and what people had to say about it as of an arbitrary point the night before. By the time I get around to reading it, I will often then go online to get a more current version of a developing story or more analysis of what an event means. If it's already 8 hours old, is it "news"?
Within the next decade, I expect that most major newspapers will be online-only products. And I expect that my subscription will include blogs from journalists and columnists, transcripts of live chat interviews with newsmakers, infographics that bring insight to stats, and interactions between readers and journalists.
Newspapers are already surfacing the most emailed, most read, and most blogged about articles on their websites; some are even recommending articles of interest based on the viewer's past behavior and that of other viewers. In order to cut through the usual spam that accumulates when readers can comment on news articles, The New York Times goes so far as to highlight reader comments that offer a thoughtful or interesting perspective, enabling readers to glean further insights into the news through light curation by editorial staff.
The Times, taking a clue from Google's data mining of search queries with Google Insights for Search (www.google.com/ insights/search), also calculates the most popular movies based on the number of its movie reviews read, movie detail pages viewed, and movie trailers accessed. Readers can even see tag clouds of the words and phrases most frequently searched on www.nytimes.com over the past 24 hours, week, or month. Interestingly, one of the most consistently searched phrases is "Modern Love," which is the name of a column of essays on relationships. Perhaps our biggest need isn't for information, but for connection.
One of the features (and drawbacks) of a print newspaper is that it offers a broad spectrum of news, relying on its readers to act as relevance filters. Beyond the obvious groupings of Local News or Sports, readers must scan the headlines of each page to see what looks interesting-enabling the serendipity of stumbling on an article they would not have sought out. Online news aggregators, on the other hand, enable us to personalize our news, filtering for just the information or perspective we want. That's great if we want to experience confirmation bias, but it's not so useful if the point is to stay informed.
Imagine a third way: Say my newspaper's iPad app paid attention to which articles I looked at and how long I spent reading each one, noting the day of the week and the time of day. It observes that I read the comics and political news first thing in the morning, I go through the front section in-depth at lunch, and I skim the rest of the paper in the evening. Now I start seeing a truly personalized version of the newspaper; I open up my iPad to Get Fuzzy and the latest from Washington, D.C., with a small box reminding me of the day's top stories. I'd pay money for that!
This reinvention of the newspaper will revolutionize what we consider to be information. Will I expect to be able to search a real-time stream of The New York Times content just as I can watch a Twitter stream today? As a business researcher, I imagine pulling up an article on a new product and watching for comments from readers, seeing if any blog posts link to it, and monitoring search queries to see if the buzz has started.
This requires that newspapers think of their roles in new ways. Their content has value beyond conveying the day's news. Newspapers that build digital communities as well as an individualized news experience will be around when newsprint dies; they embed their value in each interaction between their readers and their content.