David Worlock writes: Everytime I write a piece about the predicament of newspapers I get strange messages from total strangers, so the note which followed my recent blog (http://www.davidworlock.com/2014/01/and-there-is-nothing-in-the-newspapers-either/ ) was not a total surprise
“ You people “ , said my choleric correspondent , “ always write that newspapers are in decline but you never say what happens next ! “ Which is true enough : I can see that a medium used by some 5% of the UK’s population is in decline because it loses more readers than it gains each year, but I cannot tell you what happens next because it seems to me that this has nothing to do with the newspaper industry. It depends upon choices that we , as networked citizens, make. There is no digital newspaper model available to take today’s print into tomorrow’s world which can second guess those choices.
But we can talk about the choices themselves. This can either be a rather philosophical McCluhan-ite chat, or we can look at where the experiments are happening and what they mean. And this is a good week to follow the second approach, because AOL closed Patch, its experiment in hyperlocal news gathering, while Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary with 1.2 billion users and quarterly revenues now at a level which will take annual sales beyond $10 billion. Observers seem to identify several strands to the rediscovery of news: it is either intensely local, or it is the stuff which people choose to share with each other and discuss in a social context. Or it could be both, if what you want to discuss is the car crash at the end of your street. And the other factor that seems to be emerging is self-selection: most of the experiments have few or no people in green eyeshades with “editor” in their job titles. In a review in The Guardian ( online on 1 February 2014 ) Ian Jack takes Alain de Botton’s attempts to define news in his book, “ The News ; A User’s Manual “, roughly to task, saying that there is nothing more philosophical to the news than “ a form of entertainment or distraction, to satisfy an unfocussed curiosity about “whats going on “”. If this is true, then we will get Facebook News, with tabloid stories developed by readers, verified at times by authority ( police, courts ) but otherwise subsisting as “ network myth “, much like “urban myth “ and very manipulable in the hands of network politicians, usurping roles once occupied by press lords.
Or we claim that in order to do a job in society we need a regular feed of information. Our position as office workers, job interviewees, professionals depends upon it. Several “ newspaper descendants “ already seem to be moving into that role. Take a look for example at Vice ( http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/alain-de-botton-philosophers-mail-milf-teeth), here having a go at Alain de Botton’s website ( What has this poor man done, since his critics make mine look like soft toys ? ) Or browse around on www.buzzfeed.com if you want to send a friend “42 insanely great traditional Finnish foods “ . These lists are the stuff of social interchange and the traffic on Buzzfeed reflects a widespread interest in sending people odd and facetious things and receiving the same from them . Entertainment? Distraction? Unfocussed curiosity? What on earth do we think people are doing , bent over their smartphones on train stations or in the street?
Anyway Buzzfeed and Vice are both in my list of “ 10 companies most likely to be bought by desperate press barons in 2014 “. And I am watching anxiously how “ citizen journalism “, as the Guardian piously calls its nOtice software experiment to encourage uploaded contributions does. But I have stopped watching Mail Online completely, since it demonstrates the failure of the advertising driven model to transfer acceptably. In fact, it is now possible to argue that on the screen advertising will never play the same role in the network as classifieds and display performed in the paper age. Brands build in the network very quickly and by word of mouth – did you ever see a print display ad for Facebook or Google? Social networks produce recommendations, so the art of influence moves into the creation of support and away from space buying. And you can get more support by giving products and vouchers to network personalities with influence than you ever could by placing a display.
So wander around and have a look – the game is only just beginning. At future Stationers meetings we could all be publishers of news services. But will Facebook dominate? Certainly not, its already in decline. What I am looking for is a nice interface which will collate and headline daily alerts for me, add in some random items that reflect its intelligence about what else I do in the network, and which covers all the people and companies that interest me. I already have some of those components. Have a look at http://www.scanvine.com/ for assembling the complete social feedback, or the Irish company Newswhip with its Spike service in beta at https://spike.newswhip.com/, but when I have finished I shall certainly NOT call it My Newspaper. I am much more likely to call it My Glasses.
David Worlock has over thirty years of experience in digital publishing marketplaces. David founded Electronic Publishing Services Ltd. (EPS) in 1985, a research and consultancy company working with the digital content industry in developing strategies for products and markets in consumer and business sectors. Outsell, Inc acquired EPS in 2006. David chairs Outsell's Leadership Councils, a member-service for over 100 CEOs and senior executives of media publishing and information-provider companies in the USA and Europe. Also, David is currently Chairman of the Business Information Industry Association (BIIA) which represents the views and conducts the advocacy of the industry in Asia-Pacific.
A respected thought leader, he frequently speaks at industry conferences and advises clients worldwide. He also works in private equity, in technology startups, and writes at www.davidworlock.com.