Life after newspapers


HHve you ever seen the History Channel series “Life After People”? The idea behind this series is that if people suddenly disappeared, what would happen to the Earth? In sometimes graphic detail, the series looks at what happens to animals, plants, cities, and the ecosystem.

Similarly, an entire cottage industry has emerged to ponder “life after newspapers.”

On the one hand, you have those who believe people will walk around uninformed, presumably running into walls with stupidity. On the other hand, you have those who believe in a better world in which all information is free and people share so much that we're all better informed.

What the History Channel series teaches us is that natural law trumps all. Without people interfering, nature runs its course. Buildings crumble, animals evolve, deserts eventually become river beds, and so on.

If newspapers disappeared tomorrow, the functions they serve in society would largely be taken over by two groups:

  • Bloggers, amateurs, online communities, and such. These are individuals with strong viewpoints.

  • Governments, companies, and sports franchises reporting on themselves.

Unlike the History Channel series, those pesky people are still everywhere.

The amateurs are a bit like 18th century newspaper publishers – in it for the passion and the thrill, not the money. Of course, that changed over time. What's different is the powerful ability of governments, companies, and sports franchises to report on themselves. This is something happening today, and they're getting better and better at it.

I'm not going to lament the loss of dispassionate journalists and doing God's work. I'm not going to lament the loss of the media conglomerates and their passion for profit.

Like the History Channel series, I'm simply going to explain how nature takes its course. If newspapers suddenly disappeared:

  • There would be a small, lucrative market for some kind of credible reporting that would be filled by amateurs.

  • There would be massive demand from advertisers for someone to fill the space left by newspapers, though lower demand than before newspapers disappeared.

  • There would be growing demand from consumers to make sense of the cyber-chatter.

  • The entrepreneurial amateurs would realise, over time, consumers and advertisers will pay.

  • The amateurs would figure out there are synergies among themselves that they can take advantage of. Perhaps syndication?


  • They would figure out print is a good way to push content at people and fill the serendipitous holes in digital consumption patterns. Plus, advertisers would pay a premium to be in a push product.

  • Someone rich and powerful would begin buying these small communities and knitting them together in networks.

  • As money chases market demand, the market value of these online communities would balloon. Bigger and bigger companies of tiny online communities would emerge.

  • As for-profit companies own the online communities, efficiencies would be found and growth becomes a game of maximising financial value from each micro-niche and finding new niches.

  • Ownership consolidates, and there would be calls for government intervention to prevent profit-hungry conglomerates from further ruining the original mission of the online communities.

This is part exercise in science fiction, part wake-up call for newspaper publishers.

If we had the opportunity to re-start the information landscape, the natural order suggests we end up with big companies owning and managing tiny micro-communities.

We're there now!

The challenge today is restructuring big companies managing one big product for one big audience to big companies managing many products for many communities.

If you don't find a way to transition, there's another path. What a pity that that path would naturally end up back to where we started.

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