First, it was the telegraph, then radio, then TV, now the Internet. The demise of newspapers was predicted with the advent of each new medium.
Some papers have died; others have thrived. Those that thrived realized technology changed the competition, and that competition didn't necessarily come in the form of a broadsheet from a cross-town rival.
Whether the challenge comes over the airwaves or through a computer modem, it changes the way people receive their news and information. That next electronic wave is here, and it brings a distinct challenge to newspapers and editors: Are we quick enough to respond, and do we have the ability to make the product changes necessary to remain vital in the eyes of our readers?
While I can't speak for other newspapers specifically, I can tell you that USA Today has a history of responding to readers' needs in terms of content and design, and will continue to respond.
I imagine there will be some shifts in how newspapers and their content are produced. We've changed some of our own content as a result of the Internet.
Some recent examples include the fact that our Money section now looks at the business world through an "e-lens." That means we look at business news,through the filter of this electronic revolution in our economy. Our Life section has a daily e-world feature covered just as aggressively as entertainment and TV.
In addition to the day's news, it's incumbent on USA Today to have information people can't get anywhere else in print or online. We need to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace and create a product that is vital to the reader.
That means more planning and not reacting. Weeks before publication, we need to have a powerful lineup of stories and good story possibilities. Above all, we need lots of enterprise and the ability to tell stories in a way that explains their impact on readers' lives.
Also, we want the newspaper to be accessible to readers. We know people are rushed. So we need to be able to offer people a report they can read in six minutes, or in six hours, if they choose. That puts pressure on editors.
While stories need to be as long as they deserve to be, we need to provide readers a tightly written and edited product that is designed in such a way that they don't have to hunt for the information they want.
NEW PRINTING SITES
One question I am often asked is whether there is a future for newspapers in the era of the Internet. The answer is obvious: Of course there is.
USA Today is planning five new print sites this year, so we think there's a great opportunity for this product and for newspapers in general.
While change is necessary, we need to continue to ask ourselves the question that was drilled into our brains in the very first journalism class we ever took: "What does this mean for the reader?"
If we are able to serve readers by delivering a daily report that is insightful, informative and even entertaining, then they will continue to make time for papers. And USA Today-and the advertisers in its pages-will continue to thrive.
Karen Jurgensen is editor of USA Today.