We asked two men who have given it some thought -- Conrad Fink, of the University of Georgia, and Mario Garcia, of the Poynter Institute. They offer their expectations of readers' informational needs and how those desires and habits might evolve.
The delivery of news will no doubt change.
The nature of news, however, has long been measured by the difficulty it takes to gather it.
The reporters of today might have more resources -- statistical and electronic -- at their fingertips, but they still have to go out and get the story before they can tell it.
Professor Conrad Fink, William S. Morris Professor of Newspaper Strategy and Management at the University of Georgia, has spent 50 years in journalism; he is a former vice president of The Associated Press
He discussed the future of newspapers with Chronicle staff writer Ben Bussard.
Q: What's the immediate future?
A: Newspapers are converting very rapidly to the electronic media. That form of news delivery is becoming increasingly important to many, if not most, Americans.
The best news sites in the country are created by newspapers or news organizations, which also are in the print business. We're having enormous success in attracting readers to our sites.
Q: So what's the down side?
A: Unfortunately, advertising is not following, and after a decade of experimentation and millions and millions of dollars invested, most newspapers get no more than 10 percent of their total revenue from their electronic site.
So, the dilemma is complicated by the nationwide economic recession. It's impossible to say now, that in "good times" advertising would go rapidly online or indeed would return to the levels of yesteryear in the printed version.
Q: Will things get better when the economy improves?
A: A second factor, and I think this is extremely important, is that I discern a dramatic change in reader habits in the United States.
I think that many news consumers are backing away from emotional involvement or commitment to the compelling news of the day, and I believe that that also complicates the future of newspapers.
Q: Are they turning off newspapers or are they turning off what newspapers report?
A: I believe that it is much of the latter. I believe that people are simply avoiding this involvement in emotional issues, and I think that's underscored by the habits of people who say that they are gathering their news from electronic sites because our research shows conclusively that people come in and read the headlines and are gone in a matter of seconds.
No matter which form of delivery -- print or electronic -- I see the same revulsion over news, which unfortunately is largely bad news these days.
Q: So, what will happen?
A: The future is very clouded because we don't know what the impact is of this recession, and it's very difficult to determine what the future mix will be.
I personally believe that the news medium of the future will include print, but it will be just one of the various forms of delivery. I see us, as news organizations, delivering news traditionally in print, online, digital, audio and using a mix of the various communication technologies.
Q: So newspapers will be diminished in the future?
A: It's not a bad thing if people use this mix of various technologies to seriously read and consider news of the world.
I'm not particularly wedded to print, but I am wedded to the concept that democracy will fail if its voting citizens do not educate themselves on the issues of the day.
If they can educate themselves on the issues of the day and make their voices heard after consulting print, video, audio and so forth, that's fine. I'm not so concerned about how people get news; I'm concerned about whether or not they're seeking it.
Dr. Mario Garcia, the CEO and founder of Garcia Media, is a visual journalist on the faculty of the Poynter Institute, one of the nation's most prestigious journalism organizations.
Augusta Chronicle Staff Writer Ben Bussard talked to him on the future of journalism:
Q: Where is journalism going?
A: We are in a state of fast transitioning. With the arrival of the tablets -- and specifically with the success of the iPad -- I think we will see most major media houses completing the quartet of platforms that includes: mobile, online, print and tablets.
Q: Which medium wins?
A: Each will have a different role to play, with mobile and online becoming the fast breaking news platforms and print and tablets becoming the more analytical ones, allowing for people to disconnect from the frenzy of constant updates, and relaxing as we are used to doing with a book or a good magazine.
I sense that we will have a return to saving some time each day for "disconnect." In that sense, and this may answer your second question, print will always have a place, in my view.
Ink on paper has a way of allowing us to enjoy how we get information that is lost with digital platforms.
Q: What will change?
A: Editors are beginning to learn what is important: human interest stories. Facebook/Twitter and the rest have allowed for people to bring to the front the topics that interest them and their families; unfortunately, print editors have for a long time ignored these topics.
Now, the wake-up call is here, at the touch of the keyboard, and it tells us that readers of every persuasion are attracted by the stories that involve them, that touch their lives and that have relevance to their everyday existence.
Q: So print will continue to have a role?
A: Yes, print is eternal; no medium kills another medium; having said that, for print to survive, it will have to adapt, to assume new roles; editors will have to learn to define news differently and adapt it to each of the platforms they work with.