Newspapers' Web-reporting future is shallow, deep

The best way for newspapers to thrive in the future of digitized content is to go shallow on most topics and deep in just a few, drawing a devoted audience.

I read an intriguing article in The Atlantic over the weekend, discussing the probable implosion to The New York Times and what its future may be. One paragraph, in particular, struck me:

At some point soon--sooner than most of us think--the print edition, and with it, the Times as we know it, will no longer exist...What would a post-print Times look like?

Forced to make a Web-based strategy profitable, a reconstructed Web site could start mixing original reportage with Times-endorsed reporting from other outlets with straight-up aggregation. This would allow the Times to continue to impose its live-from-the-Upper-West-Side brand on the world without having to literally cover every inch of it.

In an optimistic scenario, the remaining reporters--now reporters-cum-bloggers, in many cases--could use their considerable savvy to mix their own reporting in with that of others, giving us a more integrative, real-time view of the world, unencumbered by the inefficiencies of the traditional journalistic form. Times readers might actually end up getting more exposure than they currently do to reporting resources scattered around the globe, and to areas and issues that are difficult to cover in a general-interest publication.

This is a similar prognostication to what I offered up recently, one that I find increasingly compelling.

Ironically, my very presence here on CNET may confirm it. CNET's Blog Network is filled with non-CNET employees, like me. We offer CNET breadth, allowing CNET's staff reporters to offer depth in particular areas of interest (e.g., Stephen Shankland focuses on Google and Yahoo, as well as search, online advertising, portals, and digital photography). That depth will then be picked up by other publications to feed its breadth, while they choose to go deep in other areas.

Symbiotic, interesting, and effective. So long as the depth is strong, people will pay for access to that content, be it through subscriptions (I am and hope to always be a paid subscriber to The Wall Street Journal, as there's little more comforting than reading it on my couch at the end of a day), advertisements, or some other means.

Such a strategy enables the media to be many things to many people without having to undergo the burden of failing to be all things to all people. I think it's a winner.

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