The Post Newspaper Era
There are several trends converging in the nation that offer clues towards the future of the new media. Changing demographics, new technologies, the declining economy and rising energy costs are driving a trend that being called “the new localism“. What this means in a nutshell is that individuals and corporations are moving their social and economic activities towards the neighborhoods where they live.
Already there has been substantial growth in Web-based community newsletters/blogs in both suburban and inner city areas. The growth of farmers markets in recent years and concerns about the carbon footprints associated with food production have spawned a local food movement whose followers are called locavores. Home-based work-9 million Americans are now telecommuting and an additional 22 million have home based businesses-is giving people more choice about where they work and more time to spend with their families and communities.
One widespread prognostication about the future is that community newspapers, those with a circulation of 25,000 or so, will be the one form of printed media that actually prospers in the future. Commercial applications of Web 2.0 media are also creating communities that tend to be united by both geography and self-interest; the Facebook page for the OB Noodle House boasts over 150 members despite being only a few weeks old. (Personal plug: Great Pho!)
The other part of this equation has to do with the need that every business has to advertise or promote in some fashion. Most advertising dollars spent are dollars wasted, sad to say, and that’s even more true when it comes to advertising on the internet. Any new media that wants to succeed on the internet will require business support. Telling businesses that you’ll be putting their message out in front of a quadrillion users each day doesn’t mean squat unless people actually respond and spend money.
Walk through any given commercial district and you’ll see a wide variety of businesses, each mostly likely doing something different to try and stay in touch with or attract new customers. Newspaper ads, radio ads, neon signs, sign twirlers, tv ads and so much more all compete constantly for our attention. (The smart businesses know that it costs nine times as much to attract a new customer as it does to encourage an existing business relationship.) All this advertising results in a bewildering assault on the senses for the would-be customer, who, over time, learns to tune it down to a dull roar. The best that the business owner can hope for in this current environment is that their messages will leave a subliminal impression with the potential customer.
Walk through that commercial district again and ask the people working there about their interactions with the outside world and you’ll discover an amazing variety of needs, many of them unmet or frustrated because of the demands of actually running these businesses. Follow those people home and you’ll find them multi-tasking and using multiple media to keep their households in order and try to stay connected to the world.
What if somebody actually did ask all these business owners about their needs, both professional and personal? What if somebody offered to bundle all these needed services for little or no money? What if there were community based platforms that took care of such mundane things as church newsletters, public service announcements, weather forecasts while offering web-based video ads for retail stores?
The new media needs to first, listen. People are looking for ways to use new technologies to make their lives more productive. They are increasingly seeking a sense of community (both literal and figurative). Businesses hate they way they are treated when they try to reach out and consumers hate being bombarded with messages they don’t need. The solutions are out there.
The first entity through the gate that addresses these concerns foremost will find a dedicated audience for news and editorial content, provided that it also supplies a healthy dose of social currency: the factoids we acquire and then trade – or give away – to start, continue, and nurture relationships with our fellow humans. Being the first through the gate means being able to match up the hardware, platforms and software in such a way that the desires of consumers and businesses are truly fulfilled and their lives become easier as a result.
So what form or format will the news media of tomorrow coalesce into? My guess is that it will be a little bit of everything: web pages, blogs/social media, print and broadcast. I believe these entities will be grouped together by communities; communities will be tied together by regions and that it will all be connected to the global economy.
There are social, political, ethical and economic issues that merit inspection as we pass through this evolutionary stage in the ways that we relate to each other. And there is, of course, the question of creating a business model that addresses the nuts and bolts of a community based media organization. We’ll cover those issues in future conversations in the OB Rag.