Newspapers were branded “losers” this week at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas – the hind-end waste product of change brought about by digital innovation. We were lumped in with the peasants who lost the Industrial Revolution at the expense of manufacturing giants.
Yet Andrew Keen, author of Cult of the Amateur, also criticised the fact that change agents worship innovation for innovation's sake. And he let in a glimmer of hope for newspaper companies losing out to the “crowd” that Social Darwinism has wrought as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.
The crowd's victory in the information revolution has destroyed big brands (Toyota), the social contract with government, and the backbone of content production industries such as journalism, movies, and music.
Yet while the crowd celebrates new digital thought leaders, it has become overwhelmed with the real-time stream of information they thought they wanted. And they are demanding more and more curation to filter relevance. And the “new curators” will inevitably create a new ripple of revolution that will cause additional “creative destruction.”
I'm not sure newspaper publishers are ready to lead the digital revolution – or even catching its passing tail. Yet my sense talking with publishers in Europe, North America, and the South Pacific – especially – is that they may be ready for the counter-revolution of curation and relevance.
Not “curation” and “relevance” as in “look what we've done for 150 years” and “we're a trusted voice.” That's crap talk that our industry's engines of public relations need to spout.
I'm talking about driving professional journalism, a new-age directory business, and more through more and more powerful databases to take advantage of the pending wave of even higher-speed mobile and PC connectivity. I'm talking about taking advantage of a superior cash position to do what the cash- and capital-deprived can't do.
You can look at the people who attend SXSW as digital utopiasts who represent a fringe of society – or the bleeding edge of things to come. My guess is the future won't look quite like it does in Austin because of Andrew Keen's observations about a counter-revolution in curation. Layer on basic marketing principles that the SXSW crowd ignores – i.e., most newspaper companies are moving away from blind mass markets as their targets – and you have an alternative perspective for the future of The Industry Formerly Known As Newspaper.
“Innovation” doesn't march in a single line. It's constantly disruptive. I believe newspapers can help lead the counter-revolution.