The job title "futurist-in-residence" conjures up images of a person who sits in a room in a rapidly evolving technology firm, thinking big thoughts.
But the company that recently created just such a position wasn't a Silicon Valley start-up but the New York Times Co., which earlier this fall hired Michael Rogers to a new, one-year appointment.
Rogers, who runs his own consulting company, Practical Futurist, and writes a column for MSNBC.com, is charged with looking ahead 18 months to five years and helping the Times' operating groups develop products that address technology advancements. He is part of a research and development team that the Times formed last December.
Rogers acknowledged that his position represents a new type of thinking at media companies, which generally are focused on the daily, weekly or monthly publication grind. But given the realities of the industry's Web-focused environment, he is finding a receptive audience within the Times.
One key area that Rogers will address is the evolution of sophisticated mobile devices over the next five years and the opportunities that will present for the Times' properties. With the advent of very fast, high-speed wireless Internet access next year, it is critical to begin developing products for both the consumer and the advertising community, he said.
"It's an investment in the future," Rogers said. "The management of the Times has recognized that technology will really shape the nature of media going forward.
"It takes a very confident company to step aside and put some resources into an activity that is not going to produce immediate revenue. That's something that newspapers aren't doing a very good job at. They seem to be throwing the crew overboard in order to keep the ship afloat."
However, Rogers doesn't entirely fault traditional media companies for taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to technology advancements and Internet applications because there has been much time and money wasted over the past decade.
What does worry him, he said, is the panic mentality he sees within the media industry now. He fears that longtime companies are undervaluing both their brand stature and their loyal customer base. As media companies put more content online, he envisions the business model shifting so that some content?but certainly not all content?is free, much as The New York Times has done with TimesSelect.
Rogers' other message to media companies: Don't give up on the print product yet. "I think the paper product is going to be around a lot longer than anybody thinks," Rogers said. "It's still extremely cheap, it's high resolution, it's portable and it's disposable. Those are pretty compelling attributes that we can't match in electronics."
Before starting a consulting firm in 2004, Rogers was VP of Washington Post Co.'s new media division from 1995 to 2004 and also served as editor and general manager of Newsweek.com. M