Reactions to the Newspaper Extinction Timeline: brickbats and (a few) bouquets


It would be fair to say that my Newspaper Extinction Timeline, released on Monday, has stirred up some controversy.

A partial list of media coverage I have seen so far is at the bottom – I am doing a stack of interviews today and tomorrow so I know there is more to come.

Reactions to the timeline has varied from taking the forecasts at face value, to more commonly scepticism at the pace of change I suggest, to a handful describing it as “complete rubbish”.

It’s worth providing a little background to why I have created the timeline. Given that the future is uncertain, I long believed that it was not appropriate to make specific prognostications. I thought (and still do) that scenario planning was the best way to help people understand the scope of uncertainty in the future, and to prepare effectively.

However in more recent years I have found that being more specific helps to focus people’s minds. If they think the forecast may be right, then there is something very concrete that they have to think through and work out how best to respond. If they disagree, then they need to think through why they think the forecast is wrong, helping to crystallize their own thinking.

The esteemed Roy Greenslade of the Guardian has written about the newspaper timeline two days in a row now, first discussing the forecasts and anticipating “inevitable brickbats” for me, then covering some of the responses to my timeline.

I am delighted that Roy picked up on what is exactly the kind of response to my timeline that I was looking for, from Earl Wilkinson of International Newspaper Marketing Association, who wrote a thoughtful piece about the timeline, excerpted here:

What I like about Dawson’s nudge is that it reminds us that the clock is ticking. We can’t work fast enough at the corporate level or the industry level to develop digital platforms that connect with readers and advertisers. We can’t work fast enough to build multi-media companies where print, online, mobile, iPad and others each play to their strengths and interact. Just as we were warned in the 1990s that classified advertising could disappear and we need to prepare for that, we need to be preparing today for an all-digital future — whether that comes in 2025, 2050, 2100, or some year beyond the reach of our great-grandchildren.

Here’s an interesting exercise for your management team: pick the date Dawson says your country’s newspapers will be “insignificant” and work backward. What would you need to do between today and that date to transform your business model and generate enough revenue to preserve today’s level of journalism at a sufficiently profitable level? We may all make similar choices, but my guess is the sense of urgency is more intense in the United States than India.

If a few dates assigned to something we’re already focused on contribute 1% additional urgency to our industry’s transformation from print to multi-media and the structure of our news ecology — with print still playing a part, even if “insignificant” — then we can thank Ross Dawson for his contribution.

I had the pleasure of hearing Earl speak at the Newspaper Publishers Association Future Forum in Sydney a few months ago. The fact of having Earl in a prominent position of influence in the industry gave me hope for the newspaper industry. Not that he would help delay the demise of news-on-paper, but he would help the industry make the transition to what absolutely can be a bright future for those organizations that can transform themselves in a brief period.

Yes, the timeline is intended as a nudge. In a later post I may discuss in more detail the full methodology and thinking behind the dates in the timeline, but that doesn’t really matter. If it has provoked different thinking, it has served its purpose.

Just a couple of the commentators picked up the notes to the timeline:

This schedule for newspaper extinction shows best estimates given current trends. The timeline is intended to highlight the diversity of global media markets and stimulate useful strategic conversations.

I don’t know if in years to come I will be regarded as an idiot or genius for these predictions. You have every right in the world to disagree vehemently. But hopefully it will stimulate some useful thinking… and action.

Partial list of coverage of the Newspaper Extinction Timeline to date:

The Australian: Deadline for newspapers as digital publications rise

Brand Republic: Digital to kill US and UK newspapers before 2020

Central Valley Business Times: AUDIO INTERVIEW: Futurist names the years when the newspapers die

Dagensmedia: Sverige utan dagstidningar 2025 Les journaux canadiens mourront en…2020

The Foreigner: Norwegian newspapers to die within ten years

Roy Greenslade in The Guardian (1): British newspapers to die in 2019

Roy Greenslade in The Guardian (2): Wilkinson: accept that newspapers are dying, now do something positive

Markedsforing: Aviserne uddør i 2023

Newsline: The Independent i: I don’t get it

The Next Web: When will newspapers die out in your country? Check this infographic

Persoenlich: 2025 gibt es keine Zeitung mehr in der Schweiz

De Standaard: Krant verdwijnt in België in 2026

Time: Futurist Predicts Extinction Timeline of World’s Newspapers Grafika: Kdy v které zemi vym?ou noviny

Villamedia: Wereldkaart ‘uitsterven’ dagbladen

Welingelichte Kringen: Nederlandse kranten verdwijnen in 2027