Thinking the thinkable: Dan Conover’s vision for the future of journalism

So you’ve read Clay Shirky’s widely-linked “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” and you know why the unthinkable is nigh, but Shirky has no answer (italics added):

So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs? I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

But the revolutionaries do have some pretty good ideas, which Shirky doesn’t explore. But Dan Conover at Xark! does, it a masterful post called “2020 vision: What’s next for news.”

Conover starts by pointing out that at the moment, the existence of struggling and dying newspapers in most cities is serving to inhibit the emergence of new models for journalistic enterprises. Therefore, Conover says, “the first meaningful test won’t come until a major American city loses its only metro daily.” He suggests that the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, as well as small-town dailies with circulations under 30,000, will be OK for now, but that the “hybrid beast known as the metro daily is in trouble, and most will not survive past 2010 in their traditional configurations.”

So in the short term, Conover envisions frequency reductions down to one to three times per week, single-digit profit margins becoming the norm as monopolies die, the elimination of duplicate coverage among media outlets in individual markets, and the disaggregation of the business as printing and distribution, or even newsgathering, are outsourced.

These are assumptions most of us have made, but Conover’s vision extends what will shape journalism beyond the short term. Like Shirky, he says “nobody knows what that shape will be”, but he offers dozens of ideas on what the components will be. It would not be fair to summarize; you just have to go read it, but I’ll tell you what I liked particularly:

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.