There has been a lot of talk about the wired city – where everyone is connected to local news and events. That vision has arrived, in Lawrence, Kansas (according to a fascinating story in the New York Times, “The Newspaper of the Future”:
The steward of this online smorgasbord is Dolph C. Simons Jr., a politically conservative, 75-year-old who corresponds via a vintage Royal typewriter and red grease pencil while eschewing e-mail and personal computers. “I don’t think of us as being in the newspaper business,” said Mr. Simons, the editor and publisher of The Journal-World and the chairman of the World Company, the newspaper’s parent. “Information is our business and we’re trying to provide information, in one form or another, however the consumer wants it and wherever the consumer wants it, in the most complete and useful way possible.”
. . .
The Simons family, through the World Company, enjoys an unfettered and often-criticized media monopoly in Lawrence. But the family has used that advantage to cross-pollinate its properties, ranging from cable to telephone service to newspaper and online publishing, and to take technological and financial risks that other owners might have avoided.
. . .
On a sweltering midsummer morning in 2001, Mr. Simons convened most of his media staff in the basement of a handsomely restored former post office at the corner of New Hampshire and Seventh Streets. The building was World’s new “converged news center,” where the company’s television, newspaper and online staffs would all be housed.
Mr. Simons told his editors and reporters that they were going to do more than merely work shoulder to shoulder; they were going to share reporting assignments, tasks and scoops – whether they liked it or not.
Many did not like it at all, and some World reporters say they sometimes still feel taken advantage of – when they are asked to squeeze multiple print, television and online duties into the course of a single day. Print reporters and their editors have, at times, been reluctant to share scoops or ideas with their television counterparts, and vice versa. But many reporters also said that, over time, they have adapted.
And they keep pushing into the technological future:
In 2003, World installed about 30 wireless hot spots around Lawrence. That same year, it began sending daily content to cellphones. For example, subscribers can have real-time scores and statistics from the University of Kansas’s football and basketball games delivered on demand.
The company has begun offering daily “podcasts” of news and other information to Apple iPod owners or anyone else carrying an MP3 player. It plans to offer a service that automatically loads information onto a docked MP3 player in the early-morning hours before students head to school.
Lawrence is not the only town where local papers are using new technology to gain an edge. But they are certainly a leader. Whether they remain a leader – or others can follow – is still unclear:
As effervescent as the new media are in Lawrence, analysts balk at making grand extrapolations from World’s efforts.
“It’s a market dominated by one company so you have to be very careful when holding them up as a paragon,” said Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at the Poynter Institute, which operates a Web site devoted to journalism. “Are they creative? Without a doubt, but I’m cautious about it being seen as a single solution or a model.”
Others are more laudatory but equally cautious about Lawrence’s online innovations. “Nobody else is close to doing what they’ve done,” said David Card, a new-media analyst at Jupiter Research. “But you also wouldn’t necessarily be able to duplicate what they’re doing in towns like San Francisco or New York.”
In the meantime, what a fascinating experiment.