I spent four days last week at back-to-back conferences in the Bay Area listening to various media types hypothesize and generalize and theorize about the future of the newspaper business, the Web's indelible mark on the medium and the ways in which the financially catastrophic collision of the print and digital worlds has specifically affected our day-to-day duties in the alt weekly world.
In a nutshell: No one has an answer. Still.
Print isn't showing any long-term signs of recovery and monetizing the Web is mostly still a mystery. In the age of on-demand news, which is literally updated globally by the second, weekly newspapers like Boise Weekly struggle to reconcile our comfort with long-form, in-depth, printed narrative with the break-neck speed of the digital news world. To what extent and by what means alt weeklies accomplish that feat has been the ubiquitous topic of discussion for months among myself and my peers at other alt weeklies in the country. At last week's conferences, I realized just how far ahead of the curve BW is. We're blogging, we're deeply entrenched in the social networking world, we video blog, we have a videographer, we've just launched a TV show, we update our readers via e-mail, text and mobile platforms ... Some of the editors and writers I chatted up at the conference were incredulous that we are able to accomplish so much without diluting our mission as a weekly newspaper.
In my opinion, we don't have a choice. We still believe wholeheartedly in our original mission: that nothing contributes to the well-being of a community more than a good local newspaper. But these days a good local newspaper does more for its readers than sit on a shelf for a week.
I wrote this Note in a Berkeley coffeeshop, and as I began writing, I looked around and counted 11 laptops, two newspapers and one novel. By the time I'd reached this final paragraph, one of those newspaper readers had vacated his table and been replaced by two college students and their laptops. A sign of times to come? Like I said, no one has the answers yet, but if the last 10 years of media are any indication of the next 10, the world looks like a mighty digital place.