News is important, we desire it, we hunt for it whether that be gossip or informed opinion or just reportage. News plays a factor in our daily lives. How we consume has changed and will continue to change over time. The death of newspapers has long been heralded from the rise of radio in the 1920s and then television in the 1950s but printed newspapers have survived all these doom warnings. How is this extinction level event different? Is it in fact different?
Newspapers are in decline that cannot be denied. Advertising expenditure has fallen and will continue to fall, Zenith OptimediaMedia predicts that newspapers advertising expenditure will fall globally by over 2% (1). In the US alone, advertising expenditure has dropped almost 14% between 2005 and 2007 (2). The power of the internet is driving this change, whose power can also be felt in Television advertising as well, as more of our life is being consumed by what we do over the World Wide Web.
How are the news publishers coping? What are their strategies? Will they survive?
HISTORICAL & CURRENT SITUATION
People have craved news since time began and it has been published in various forms, dating as far back as both Ancient Roman and Chinese times but began its rise to change and dominate lives with the invention of the Gutenburg Press in the mid-15th Century, that the possibility of mass media really started to take off.
Newspapers, as we currently know them, began to take shape during 1700s with the first daily newspaper and newspapers forming all round the world. Then during the 1800s the Industrial Revolution, the rise of the middle classes, the invention telegraph all contributed to the change of the newspaper into a more international, speedier and more informative method of news distribution. Also during this period the first photographs were introduced into the papers.
During the early part of the 20th Century, gave rise to the Newspaper moguls like Hearst, Pulitzer and Lord Northcliffe. With the rise of radio, the doom of newspapers was heralded but they adapted and became more in depth and began to broaden their appeal.
The next challenge they faced was television, which did impact their sales but the newspapers overcame and changed once again, using colour and separating between the more in-depth papers, the 'broadsheets' and the short sharp punchy 'tabloid' papers.
RISE OF THE INTERNET
The Internet is not just a delivery system for email and a gateway to the World Wide Web, it is a game changing and business changing technology, which has and will affect every aspect of our life, including newspapers.
During the 1990s the use of the internet and web rose considerably but it really wasn't until the last decade that the web has started to come into it's own and really provide the framework to change the way we consume information and work with it.
Like the telegraph before it, which sped up the way news spread exponentially, email and the internet done likewise, now a news story can be spread round the world in seconds and spread like wildfire, whether that be for good or ill. People can and will exchange stories, news and gossip between themselves, and as we will see some even publish it online.
Newspapers are adapting though, all the major international papers, and national papers have websites, with content that is both in the printed version and some that is exclusive to the website and some that is exclusive to the printed edition. Some more forward thinking, are adapting further with a plethora of blogs, podcasts and most recently video material.
One of the biggest debates in journalism at the moment is what makes a journalist and therefore what makes a newspaper.
With the rise of the internet, a new phenomenon arose that of online diaries, which are been called 'Blogs'. These blogs are written and posted by anyone with anything to say, they range from personal musings and rants to informed thesis and articles. As the web has progressed, blogs have become more sophisticated and more and more like online newspapers which cover specialist topics.
This is the rise of the 'Citizen Journalist', the fact that anyone can report on anything. Newspaper and even television journalists, decry these people with horror, as they cite that they have not been trained to be a journalist nor have the required factual checking nor veracity that Newspapers or Television require.
This though has been somewhat nullified, with scandals about journalists and newspapers (specifically in the United Kingdom) not checking stories and in some cases so flagrantly so that they have been censured. Along with this loss of trust with the public, the rise of such prolific and recognized bloggers as Adrianna Huffington of the Huffinton Post, who has become a political journalistic stalwart in a very short space of time, has given credibility to the blogs and their world.
Though journalists are happy to use them, for example some of the best and most outstanding photographs and footage of the July 7th terrorist attacks on London came from citizens not journalists. Half the world's population have a mobile phone, most with a camera and they have the ability and willingness to use it, news is just getting faster.
Even the journalists have now embraced the blogosphere and multimedia, blogging along with their internet counterparts, which now has more sway with the public?
FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
The journalists, the press in general and newspapers, in particular, have been at various times accused of bias in reporting and indeed have been tools of propaganda for governments and regimes. The press themselves, especially in democratic countries have frequently expressed their passion for the freedom to report anything that is deemed to be in the public interests. This freedom of the press is held to be one of the fundamental rights of a free and democratic civilization.
This has been taken on by the Internet community with the bloggers and citizen journalists. Their belief is that most of the newspapers are owned by international multimedia conglomerates with a message to impart to the people who consume them. What the internet journalists believe is that they are the new bastion of the Free Press, they are able to tell their news without the political leanings of a paper or media mogul. It means a whole slew of opinion, varying from the wildly scandalous and the polar opposites of the political spectrum to the heavily researched and moderate. It does give a voice to those that have not had one before.
What is interesting is what the general population view these expressions of freedom and how they consume it. It seems that in general people can find the opinion that they wish and they are free to consume and expand their horizons if they so choose.
One of the major positive outcomes of the rise of the internet is that people in places that had no freedom of the press have now the ability to express their opinions freely and without censure. Though some governments have tried to restrict access to the internet, they have yet to succeed in totality.
This broad scope of humanity on the internet does lead us on to the next big issue facing the print newspapers, the fragmentation of media and peoples individualistic consumption habits.
THE LONG TAIL & POWER OF NICHES
Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine, in his article and book 'The Long Tail' expresses the theory that with the internet and it's infinite storage capacity and the breadth of people's desires, means that there is the ability to cater to everyone's tastes. Tastes which previously had been too costly to be catered for by the traditional mass media companies now can be more easily targeted by entrepreneurs, as well by the bigger conglomerates.
This does not, like some commentators think, mean the decline of the hit. It merely means that the vast population that has been underserviced by the mass media is now able to be serviced. This has become true with regards to music and has also become apparent with books as the genre sections of Amazon, the online book seller has expanded its number of titles and publishing houses have increased the number of niches authors.
This can also be seen in the rise in the number of magazine titles, catering for specialist interests as divergent as model-making and golf to fly fishing and witchcraft. The Print Industries Market Information and Research Organization (PRIMIR), study showed that titles were increasing throught the period 2006 -2011 by as much as 8%, in North America, this would be the largest number of titles ever recorded.
These interests can be highlighted on the web, as previously discussed the web gives rise to a plethora of voices and therefore a wide fragmentation of audience and tastes. Each person is now an individual and therefore can seek out the content that desre.
The question is how newspapers can work with these new parameters, will we see the rise of specialist news papers. The Guardian, a UK newspaper, has an award winning online side, which has developed a highly specialist niches, especially around the media world. Will this be the start of the fragmentation of the newspapers online to cater for individualistic content. We have only seen a tentative start but with websites and bloggers targeting niches such as showbusiness (Perez Hilton & TMZ) or Technology (Endgadget & Gizmodo). They had better speed up or risk being left behind.
The one bright spark in niches is the rise in London specifically but in other major metropolises of morning and evening free print newspapers, which are specifically targeting the commuting community. They are short and heavily funded by advertising and sponsorship, but have become a roaring success, except to the environmental community whom dislike the waste of the once read easily thrown away newspapers that litter trains.
BRAND, BRAND, BRAND
The property market's mantra is 'Location, Location, Location.' I believe that the new media world online will have a mantra, 'Brand, Brand, Brand.'
People's association with brands has become one of the marketing battlegrounds of the 20th and now the 21st Century. People like to see themselves associated with a style and those brands that they can relate to that imbue that style, will win out. This is true of clothing, magazines, movies and music. This will also extend to the web and those brands that embrace it.
The second factor to add to this equation is reach, with the internet, one is not limited to small territory that it can reach by traditional media, it is instantaneously a global player in the world. A fact that not all media companies have embrace for no matter how hard they try to lock us into to our own small territory, the internet breaks free and people access from all over the globe. This, though if embraced, has significant cost implications, as one can create a one stop focal point for global people to focus on the brand.
Already established International Brands are in prime position to take advantage of this new market and this is true for newspapers as much as media or brand. There are international newspaper brands, such as the Financial Time, International Herald Tribune and of the course the Wall Street Journal. Which was recently purchased by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for the huge sum of $5 billion, a sure sign that Mr Murdoch knows the future value of the brand.
This highlights the new media mantra and the purchasing of international brands to bolster a national newspaper empire in the USA, UK and round the world. It will be interesting to see how Murdoch and the other media conglomerates play out their International Brands.
The Death of various types of media has long be touted by the heralds of doom, first with the radio and then television but with the internet I believe that the heralds are right and the wolf is coming but not in the way that people envisage.
The biggest factor which is yet to be mentioned is the age demographics of consumption of media; Neilsen survey reported that 40% of all 16-24 year olds only watched their television online. If this is translated to news media then the writing is on the wall. In a straw poll of people under 25 in my circle, over 70% get all their news via the internet.
I use the phrase 'generational shift' to indicate how long a technology needs to imbed in the consciousness and to be truly absorbed by the masses. If you think mobile phones were in the late 80's the commodity of the business man, now every 10 year old has one.
This generational shift is happening and those digital natives or millennials (those born after the year 2000) will be the ones to shift their news consumption. Luckily for the publishers of newspapers in the West, we have an ageing population and therefore they will be consuming print for a little while to come.
CONCLUSIONS - THE FUTURE OF PRINT
The Future of printed newspaper publishing looks bleak, newspapers circulation is declining and advertising expenditure in the printed newspaper world is rapidly falling off. Currently the world has 1.3 billion people online and that is set to double in the next five to ten years, which will mean more people consuming media online, especially news.
As more content goes online and then more people choose to consume it that way, then papers will spiral into oblivion, though I believe they will keep alive via their websites and their innovate use of content, By embracing audio and visual medium as well as the written word, expanding their remit to not only reportage but comment and embracing the world as a source of journalists. Then they will succeed, but future is digital not paper.