Newspaper owners still haven't realized the true power of the Internet, he said, and to prove he's not just a one-sound-bite pony, Gowers, a 22-year FT vet, added, "Whatever I do next it will not involve ink printed on dead trees." You would be entitled at this point to roll your eyes at the thought of yet another "newspapers are dying" column. But with a hundred or so print journalists receiving their pink slips this week and MoveOn.org telling the (likely unmoved) populace it's not a good idea for a democratic society to sack the few folk who hold power to account, it's hard to ignore the question: Wither print-centric news organizations?
The obvious answer is that most will live on by converting themselves into digital organizations. "Those newspapers that survive will be those that produce truly original content and learn fastest how to translate it into the all-encompassing, all-singing, all-dancing new medium," said Gowers.
The problem with this trees-to-bytes transition is that the revenue of most publishers' Web sites would not even come close to sustaining news gathering and content organizations that were built on print ad foundations.
Must we then resign ourselves to a media oriented around celebrities and bloggers' pet peeves? I asked Gowers, but he made things sound even worse for traditional media, pointing out that not only are eyeballs shifting to the Web but consumers are learning how to aggregate their own content-think RSS or DVRs-making TV stations, newspapers and the like increasingly irrelevant.
He did say that at the rate ad dollars are migrating to the Web some sites will soon be able to support existing content-creation infrastructures. I'm not convinced. A decade of sharp CPM increases wouldn't be enough for most newspaper sites to match revenue from their print editions.
The answer more likely lies in a wholesale shift in the journalism model and mind-set. Rafat Ali, who runs Paidcontent.org -- a site devoted to new media models -- is an advocate of this Journalism 2.0. In the world he describes, editors would stop wasting resources by ordering reporters to re-create existing stories, instead accepting that part of the role of their news sites is to aggregate the most relevant content regardless of its origins. That would free up time for news reporters to dig up genuinely original stories-aka, er, news! Pay structures and cultures would encourage journalists to be more entrepreneurial. Ali also believes journalists will have to be trained to deliver multimedia content. "Some of the big news dot-coms have reporters who have been asking for cameras, who want to create video content and their bosses are saying, `No, we'd have liability or union issues,' but if they don't do it someone else will, and talk of liability is just an excuse for inertia."
Oh, and of course there's the promise of user-generated content. Not that Ali thinks the citizen journalist will replace the professional, but he does think systems that make use of user-generated reporting will have a place. "Editors will become more and more like curators, they'll have software to help them filter content, but they'll also sift through, analyze and contextualize a body of incoming content."
I'm not sure I like the sound of the sifting part, but consumer-empowering technologies are changing everything and those chronicling the revolution are also caught up in it.