Following up on its 2006 report on newspapers' troubles, The Economist published a new 14-page special report on the future of news today.
"Who killed the news?" dominated The Economist's cover five years ago, and the following report was about as bleak as the headline. The report chronicled the industry's loss of advertising revenue, declining circulation, and competition with citizen journalists and bloggers. One article went so far as to claim, "Newspapers have not yet started to shut down in large numbers, but is only a matter of time."
Things seem to be looking up this time around. In this week's special edition, titled "Back to the coffee house", The Economist admits that its last report may have jumped the gun. American and European newspapers still face the same problems, but little by little they are adapting to current circumstances. Reinvention is key to survival.
Larry Kilman, the executive director of Communications and Public affairs for WAN-IFRA, was quoted as saying, "The [news] audience is bigger than ever, if you include all platforms. It's not an audience problem - it's a revenue problem."
The report then went on to explain many of the topics we discuss here every day: different paywall models, nonprofit news organisations, the impact of Wikileaks, and the way social media shapes a story, amongst other issues.
On the whole, the report is optimistic, at least compared to the foreboding tone of the 2006 report. It lists solutions to declining revenue and explains how nonprofits have begun to step in when traditional news outfits shrink. It also focuses on emerging countries, addressing press growth in India, Brazil, Russia, and China, but without glossing over transparency issues and state supervision.
In typical Economist style, the report would not be complete without data journalism. One page is dedicated to graphs, comparing newspaper revenues, circulation, and social media penetration by country.
The report chronicles newspapers' "full circle" journey, citing the irony in the fact that technology is forcing newspapers to devolve back to their pre-industrial roots. "Early media conveyed news, gossip, opinions, and ideas within particular social circles or communities, with little distinction between producers and consumers of information," said The Economist. "They were social media."
At the very end of the report, the publication advises newspapers to reorient towards readers rather than advertisers, as well as embrace collaboration - a far cry from their original death prediction.