Predicting a Super Bowl winner doesn't make you a genius: after all, given a pool of 32 teams, one of them is bound to capture the trophy. But predicting the future for an industry that's been buffeted by new technologies and economic vicissitudes, and sometimes seems to have all the substance and staying power of sea foam? That's an accomplishment.
Murky as the media's long-term future may be, though, it's still possible to hazard some reasonably solid guesses about the major story lines the New Year has in store. Here — with the assistance of assorted media experts — are some biggies to keep an eye on in 2010, both locally and nationally.
THE FATE OF THEBOSTON GLOBE Love it or hate it, the Globe is still New England's paper of record, capable of driving the local news agenda like no other outlet. And — despite an abundance of drama in 2009, which saw both a threatened shutdown and the solicitation of bids from would-be buyers — it's still a New York Times Company property.
That, however, is where the certitude ends. Just how deeply will the Times Co. cut the Globe's staff, now that the lifetime-job guarantees enjoyed by many union employees are a distant memory? Might the Times Co. decide to shop the Globe again, if it thinks it can get more substantial offers than it received in 2009? And what impact will new publisher Christopher Mayer — who made his bones at the Globe when it was still owned by the Taylor family — have on the paper's operations and ethos?
ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO PAY FOR In theory, every print-media outlet would love to find a way to make consumers pay for the info they're getting for free online. But visions of a reader-and-advertiser exodus have kept most news organizations from acting accordingly.
Expect that reticence to vanish in 2010, whether or not News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch follows through on his much-discussed pay-wall plans. "I think a lot of people are going to head toward an online pay-to-read model this year — including us," says New York Times media critic David Carr. "I'm just predicting here — I don't have any inside knowledge — but in our last earnings report, consumer revenue surpassed advertising revenues. The die is sort of cast at that point."
Ultimately, Carr envisions a two-tiered news universe, with bare-bones reportage available free of charge and higher-quality coverage coming with a price tag — and, perhaps, consumed on a tablet. (See next item.)
This shift from free distribution won't just affect news consumers. "Google's YouTube will begin to charge for some content," predicts Ken Auletta, media writer at the New Yorker and the author of the new book Googled: The End of the World as We Know It (Penguin). "Having come to realize that advertisers don't want their friendly products affixed to unfriendly or unpredictable user-generated videos, YouTube knows it needs professionally produced content to attract more advertisers. And to lure Hollywood movie and TV content, YouTube will have to pay for it."