The future of newspapers

What does the future hold for South African newspapers? Well, that is entirely up to the newspapers.

We're reading a lot about the struggles and turmoil in the local newspaper industry. Old newspaper brands are slowly but surely closing and the ones that remain, operate thanks to vastly scaled back staffing resources and operational overheads.

Obviously media itself has changed radically in the last couple of decades. Competition is fierce and the pace of change relentless. But just like every other business, 'news' is a product that needs to be strategically presented and built according to an informed understanding of what 'the news customer' wants.

Newspapers in general are not renown for their amazing brand building abilities, but in the current media climate that's exactly what they need to urgently develop. Without research, innovation, strategy, marketing and leadership legacy news brands will most certainly continue to collapse.

Just like every other business, the newspaper business doesn't have some kind of god-given right to continue to exist. Newspapers and their owners seem to assume that society itself will be in a 'desperately bad situation' without them, but why should society simply continue to support a for-profit business that doesn't offer a compelling product?

The future of newspapers looks bleak because newspapers are traditionally run by news people, not brand people. If you want to save a newspaper you need to think more creatively about the product and brand that you are offering. If people don't see value in it - it dies.

Yes - society will be poorer without institutional watchdogs to keep us all informed and accountable, but the mechanism through which that is achieved needs to be critically assessed and redesigned.

It's the responsibility of newspapers to welcome creative interrogation of their own mental models right now, not reassign blame for their own failures onto the public.