Ken Doctor’s recent book, Newsonomics is a fine tour of the forces (A tour de force even) transforming the news industry as we enter “the Digital News Decade.” Though the disruption has been underway for a dozen years and the crisis for the news industry crescendoed to a clamor in 2009, it is still too early to know exactly where all this will lead.
Still, if you want to understand realities that constrain what could happen and to participate or survive in the news industry that will come, then reading this book would be a great starting point. It provides both snapshot of the “blooming buzzing confusion” at the moment and a “handbook for all those that care deeply about our news future”.
Doctor is perfectly qualified to cover the full sweep of the territory, former and disrupted. His career started in the world of the second half of the 20th Century news where metro and local newspapers could both serve public purpose and be great businesses. His career continued as digital news executive and consultant in the last dozen years of the Internet’s dismantling of the former reality.
Doctor sets the stakes on the two big questions for what’s ahead. How will we get hiqh-quality news produced and how do we get it paid for?
Though Doctor clearly carries the values of a traditional journalist—Certainly in this nation of 300 million people … we can figure out how to pay living wages to fifty thousand or so people who root out what is going on in our communities and cities—he understands and embraces the forces of change, and having traveled along with them, is optimistic or at least willing to believe that new models that address the civic need will emerge.
The book is organized as twelve laws, though perhaps better called trends or themes or as he says, building blocks for the future of news. Doctor shows his stripes as both newsman and analyst in producing a highly-readable and substantive stream of quotes, stats, facts, stories and analysis.
In alignment with the new ways of journalism he describes, Doctor continues to cover the story across the web. Below are the 12 “laws” linked to pages on his site that act as portals to his ongoing writings. I will certainly follow Doctor wherever he writes.
- In the Age of Darwinian Content, You Are Your Own Editor — More and more channels for receiving news and information yet the same fixed time in a day leave us at disorderly aggregations at the end.
- The Digital Dozen Will Dominate — Scale and depth of capacity are still going to matter, therefore a dozen or so media companies will dominate the market of 900B news and information consumers in English.
- Local: Remap and Reload — the arena of greatest ferment with many experiments on all dimensions, maybe like the days before conglomerations of local newspapers. (Note: the longest chapter by twice the average of the other)
- The Old News World is Gone- Get Over It — Neither readers nor advertisers are locked in anymore, attention must be constantly earned, and advertising made accountable.
- Mastering the Fine Art of Using Other People’s Content — Though 2009 was focused on Google and the major news organizations, the game around aggregation is hardly over given both local ferment and aggregation by the digital dozen.
- It’s a Pro-Am World — It’s more complex than professional journalist vs amateur contributors. It’s about the better, faster, cheaper made possible by the groundswell of energy from everybody.
- Reporters Become Bloggers — Both news companies and enterprising journalists have moved into blogging with the pace, mix, and forms befitting of the digital genre.
- Itch the Niche The bundling together of the sections of a newspaper to be delivered in a daily package is no longer necessary so travel, technology, sports, health, and other high-value niches can be and are independently targeted on the always-on web.
- Apply the 10 Percent Rule — New whole systems will combine human and technological capabilities, the 10 percent here being the skills, intelligence, and judgment that humans will provide, even if in new ways, for the forseeable future.
- Media and Marketers Find New Ways to Mix and Match —Media now has to compete for attention and this means both through other media outlets and social media.
- For Journalists’ Jobs, It’s Back to the Future — the salaried staff jobs purely focused on producing content are dwindling and a much wider range of business and technology skills are needed to succeed in the “gig economy” of Internet media.
- Mind the Gaps — Though many historical systemic factors (monopolies, brands, unions) are now being rapidly smashed by economic fiat, these and others (consumer behavior) will still play out in the sorting out still ahead.