This guy (Jacek Utko) thinks that design can help save newspapers, which is weird because he also says that “There’s no practical reason for newspaper to survive.” How you save something that has no practical reason to exist is beyond me. But I’m not so sure about design saving newspapers or that newspapers have no practical reason to exist.

Hat tip to Patrick Tanguay for the video.

First, Utko’s talking about reinventing the actual physical print editions of newspapers, and as much as that might increase their circulation, it will only buy them time. Newsworthy information just moves much faster than can the production of a physical product, such as a print edition.

And I’m not so sure about newspapers having no practical reason to exist for two reasons: (1) they are very, very valuable in a democracy, because (2) they’re in the business of providing authoritative information so that they can sell subscriptions and ads. As long as there is a demand/need for that kind of information, there are very practical reasons (both economic and political) for newspapers to exist.

So it’s not that newspapers have to change their product, it’s that they have to change their business model, their revenue model, becoming less of a newspaper and more of news organizations. As Clay Shirky puts it:

It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

They probably won’t be able to sell subscriptions the way they used to, but they can definitely sell ads better than they ever have. That’s where their revenue model has to change, in the delivery of advertising. They have to start phasing out (or at least stop relying on) print editions, and start thinking of better ways to deliver both their authoritative information and the ads that appear alongside it.

And it’s not rocket science, either. It’s something that plenty of A-list bloggers and affiliate marketers have already figured out on a much smaller level. All newspapers have to do is increase the scale and scope.

As for this Utko fella, it seems to me that he’s just running is mouth off about how highly he regards himself. I think it’s awesome that he was able to turn around so many Eastern European newspapers — really, I do.

But as online technologies achieve the same penetration rates in Eastern Europe as they have in the West, those publications are to face all of the same challenges as the the Chicago Sun Times and the Rocky Mountain News. And the only design that’s going to help them get past that will be the schools of information architecture and business modeling.

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