USA Today and the Future of Journalism

USA Today recently laid off a number of sports columnists as part of a broader restructuring of its sports department – and the vision they’ve set for their sports department going forward may well be a vision of the future for newspapers all over the country.

A leaked memo from publisher Larry Kramer effectively completely redefines USA Today Sports’ mission:

As we recast ourselves into a multi-platform sports organization, it is clear that we must be more aggressive and proactive about how we cover breaking news. While the newspaper remains an important source of news for our sports consumers, we can no longer operate with a print-first mentality. Stories move 24-7 and we need to move at that same rapid pace. The USA TODAY Sports Media Group intends to be the conversation starter, breaking news in Sports faster and in greater depth than anyone else.

It’s been said in the past that the Internet completely obliterates the traditional “news cycle”, giving people access to breaking news instantaneously. This has had its pluses and minuses, foremost among the latter the race to get scoops first potentially coming at the expense of getting them right. USA Today has effectively recognized that they are facing a future in which newspapers look increasingly obsolete, a drain on resources from the web site, and that the new world of the Internet is a far different world than the print world they’re leaving behind. This appears to be at least a first step towards embracing the new rules of the game. USA Today has generally been one of the “little three” of national general sports websites (alongside Sporting News/Fanhouse and NBC, and behind ESPN, CBS, Fox, SI, and Yahoo in some order), and they appear to be taking proactive steps to emerge from that status.

There’s a lesson here for newspapers all over the country looking to recast themselves in the new Internet age. They must effectively become less like newspapers, as they have known the term up to this point, gathering up all the stories they can for a single daily or weekly edition, and more like twenty-four-hour news networks, reporting the news as it happens. Certainly there will be people who just want to get the news in one big dose, but the core of that one big dose will utterly depend on being able to stay on top of all the news the moment it develops.

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