Media & PR

The future of newspapers as it looked in 1994

Back in December 1994 The Guardian ran a piece on “The tomorrow of newspapers” complete with a mocked up newspaper from December 2004.

The picture on the right shows the cover, and click on it to see pictures of the other pages. As you’ll see it is very much a magazine look they were predicting.

But it was also a personalised newspaper as their report from the year 2004, written in 1994, explained:

It did not take long before people realised they were receiving too much information. Many began to depend on “agents” (filtering elements contained in computers which shape the kinds of media we consume). Some people chose to personalise completely their online newspapers, instructing their agents to select only the stories in which they were interested. These were the so-called “Daily Me” readers.

But the majority continued to read printed newspapers (though sales for the tabloids were down 89 per cent from 1994, according to figures from the Interactive Audit Bureau of Circulations); watch television (choosing from some 10,000 channels); and access news and entertainment from online services, video on demand channels and digital broadcasting.

The new “printed” newspaper breakthrough came a couple of years ago in 2002 with the invention of a cheap, reversible and re-usable fibre material with a high enough colour print quality to withstand repeated print-outs at home.

This invention took place at the same time that “agent” technology was developed at the Guardian Media Lab so that printing, editing and newspaper layout were automated to a standard that could produce the “personalised” newspapers you are reading today.

Not a bad prediction of the future in many ways. Back in 1994 they got right the importance of people selecting what information they want and the challenges of there being so much information available. Of course we’ve not got the personalised newspapers where you get a print-out on reusable paper, but the availability of the internet on mobile devices has achieved much the same – you can get each morning the news that you want, on a device that can be carried round with you and can be reused each day to give you that day’s news.

What the prediction missed (even in the longer full article and sidebars) was the impact of the internet in terms of undermining the ability to charge for news and also allowing far more people to report news. And that, looking forward into the future from 2009, looks to be the most important feature of the future of newspapers.

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