I was asked to write 250 words encompassing an "ideal vision of what a newspaper business unit will look like, five years from now." I can't hold it to 250, but here's a 488-word look into a best-case scenario:
The website will no longer be an "online edition." Print and online products will have evolved significantly apart, each focusing on the unique characteristics of its medium, but operating as a team to serve the community.
In larger markets, the metro newspaper is becoming a high-end specialty product, operating in parallel with a network of free-circulation, highly targeted, hyperlocal print products that are tightly coupled with a new generation of websites.
The website has become the community's primary tool for connecting with itself, supporting both social and commercial networking. It is a participative, conversational environment that has become everyone's first choice for solving practical local-life problems.
Half the local community visits the website at least once a week. Community-generated content dominates the online experience. The entire print product is not necessarily available online.
20 percent of news staff time will be devoted to web operations, especially web interactions. Reporters and editors will be an integral part of the online community.
20 percent of advertising revenue is attributable to the Internet.
Five times as many commercial accounts do business with the newspaper, online and offline, as in 2005. The Internet has become a key tool in this expansion by facilitating low-cost advertising services to small, entrepreneurial businesses that traditionally have been unserved by the daily newspaper. Much of this growth is in prepaid, credit-card, self-serve advertising including pay-for-performance online models.
50 percent of the content of the printed newspaper will be traceable to the website. This includes commentary and contributions directly repurposed from web to print, but also professional journalism that is better grounded and better informed because reporters are connected to a broad-based, participative community.
The newspaper is physically smaller – in both page count and dimensions -- but more powerful as a reader experience. It demands to be read for 20 minutes a day, because everyone is talking about what's in it.
The newspaper has given up its pretense of being the "primary connector" on nonlocal issues, and focuses overwhelmingly on local life. Space devoted to wire copy has been markedly reduced; it no longer is used to keep ads from bumping into one another. World and national news is carefully selected and heavily edited -- rewritten if necessary -- to spell out the local impact of nonlocal stories. The newspaper also provides a concise, synoptic "catch-me-up" overview of world and national events.
The stuffy old editorial page is gone, replaced by a greatly expanded community-engagement section that draws heavily from the website. The newspaper has realized its role as a convener and facilitator of community, and everyone on the staff is comfortable taking an activist role in building social capital.
The “new media department” is gone, its Internet mission having been eagerly adopted by the broader organization. A “new products development team” is hard at work on projects that center on mobility, audio services and video services.