In every part of the world, the newspaper industry has seen plummeting advertising sales, loss of classified advertising and damaging drops in circulation. Digital news readership – by contrast – has witnessed meteoric growth. Here’s why it’s set to continue.
BY BLAIR FINLAYSON
The numbers look grim. Here in New Zealand, newspaper readers declined from nearly 1.5 million in 2009, to fewer than 900,000 in 2014 (stoppress.co.nz). In an article titled ‘The Print Media are doomed’, Business Week outlined several reasons why print won’t last the distance.
‘It’s not that print is bad. It’s just that digital is better. It has too many advantages (and there will only be more): speed, permanence, searchability, the ability to update, to ability to remix, targeting, interaction, marketing via links, data feedback. Digital transcends the limitation of print.’
The rise and rise of digital news media
Financial viability for newspapers and most magazines, at least for now, requires retaining as many existing print readers as possible. Yet the trends are clear: people, especially the young, are turning to the internet for more and more of their news. Developing an effective digital strategy is essential for long term survival.
Also, while it is accepted that ‘good writing is good writing wherever and however it is published’, differences still apply between print and online news.
One of the reasons is the reader’s volatility. Titles, style of writing and content were all important in print papers, but it must now be adapted to the user interface of online websites. The potential to customise content means readers may select only the content that appeals to them.
Now anyone can be a journalist
The web has also given rise to citizen journalism. Technically it means that everyone with access to the internet can get involved in a story. Global news can be produced from anywhere and by anyone.
Although evidence of the switch from print to web journalism is overwhelming, people don’t just crave information. They still seek judgement from someone they can trust.
The importance of quality journalism
Readers follow those who can ferret out information, dig behind it, and make sense of it. They want depth, scepticism, context and a presentation that honours their intelligence. They want stories that are elegantly told and compelling, with quality pictures and videos. And they want to be part of the conversation.
One of the issues for print organisations as they transition to online, is the gathering of revenue. Readers had subscribed to print copies for generations, so they might have been just as likely to take an online paid subscription. However, people don’t always want to pay, and they often resent being forced to.
Some newspapers have become clever with paywalls. Readers might get part of a story, then asked to subscribe to get the story in full. Publishing is a tech industry now. You can develop entirely new revenue streams that revolve around what readers genuinely value and will pay for.
Quality journalism plays an irreplaceable role in our society. It is time to move past all the shouting over which platform or which business model is best and to join in an urgent and collective effort to protect what matters most: quality journalism and the journalists who create it.
About the Author:
Blair Finlayson is a retired pharmacist who has lived and worked in Hamilton, New Zealand for many years. Born and raised in Christchurch, he first moved to the city in 1982 to complete the final part of his pharmacy training. After spending time in the UK and Te Awamutu, he returned to Hamilton in 1993.
Married with two adult sons, Blair’s interests are reading, writing, travel, cricket, golf and music.