Sunday, July 21, 2013

The future of newspapers: go local!

 By Consuelo Aguirre

Newspapers are doomed and condemned to disappear, in 5, 10 or 30 years. Those are the predictions about the future of the press in United States and the whole world. It seems to be a fact: digital journalism jeopardized the revenues of newspapers and their existence.  

In my country, Ecuador, print journalists live under uncertainty about the sustainability of their jobs. Publishers try to hide the sales outcomes that keep dropping with no apparent solution. Some journalists have moved to other fields, like public relations and others put their hopes and expectations on the emerging and more promising world of digital news. 

The innovation projects on journalism are focused on the Internet, in general, and on mobile devices, in particular. News readers, news feeders, online platforms for journalists that work on specific fields, data journalism, data mining, data visualization, digital storytelling. The list goes on and on.  

We teach journalism students the hability to tell a story using different digital tools. They ought to be prepared for what's coming next, but are we really aware of what we are leaving behind?

Last year, I had the opportunity to get to know the projects that the entrepreneurs of the Sillicon Valley, in California, are working on. The outcomes are successful, insightful  and some of them have been meaningful for journalism. But none of them blew my mind. 

This year, in a small town of Ohio, I had a experience that really got me thinking about the present and future of newspapers . The SUSI program, at Ohio University, arranged a trip to the Amish community of Sugarcreek. There, we visited what for me is the most interesting newspaper in the world: The Budget.
Stablished 125 years ago, The Budget brings the news for Amish communities nation wide, all in Amish style. 

The members of the community, that have a simple way of life, away from technology, use the paper as a way to spread the news about family, business and the community. In most cases, The Budget is the only way to communicate and get informed about what's going on with relatives that live far away. 

In many ways, The Budget is a newspaper of the 19th century, because of it's structure and it's aims: serve an specific community that has it's own language, interests and a way of life stranged from modernity . 
This paper has an advantage that any publisher in the world would like to have: readers that don't access to Internet and are not interested on doing that any soon. But, because of that, The Budget is one of the newspapers that has the chance to succeed an never die, at least not in the next decades. It is, in many ways, the newspaper of the 21st century

Then I thought about my country. Publishers and journalists work for  the population that has access to Internet: that's a 55%. What about the 45% that are not on line? Who thinks about them? How many communities that, like the Amish have their own language  and different cultural practices, need a newspaper or a magazine? In Ecuador, we hardly notice that there is people outside the main cities. How many opportunities to start a new media have been lost?

Even though, there are some exceptions and I have to tell you, one of them is my friend, Orlando Mena. He never worked in mainstream media and his dream was to open a newspaper in his home town: Guambalo. It is a very small village located in the mountains, in the province of Tungurahua. Some colleagues thought he was crazy, but he pursued his dream and now he is the proud owner of two newspapers and some magazines that serve an entire region.

So, the newspapers are destined to dissappear. Really? If we look further, sure they won't. Specially if we learn that Internet is not the future of journalism, it's only a part of that future. That there are communities that need to be informed and would love to see themselves reflected on a paper. That not everyone speak the same language and have the same expectations. 

After this thoughts, now on I will be less worried about teaching my students about new tools to tell stories and be more concerned about teaching them to see and understand people. 

1 comment:

cherry said...
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