Newspapers may be dying, but journalism must survive
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Newspapers are dying. It’s inevitable, and it is natural. They will continue to decline for however many years they can still fight on, but will eventually succumb to extinction. Newsprint sales at local, regional, and national levels, have all be waning over the last 20 years, and the figures show no sign of slowing down. Yes, it is true that newspapers had worried at the introduction of radio, and later of television, yet each time found ways to adapt and stay afloat. The introduction of digital information and social media, however, is not an obstacle; it’s a revolution. This isn’t by any means a negative change. An end to an era, perhaps, but not something that needs to be resisted. When the first newspapers came about, ink to paper was the only manner in which to publish news. Today, with a host of technologies, formats and mediums, there is nothing that binds journalism to paper, ink, or even text. What’s crucial now is not to halt the deterioration of newspapers, but to ensure journalism survives the death of print. What threatens digital journalism is revenue. Newspapers’ business model is based around advertising revenue, yet this revenue source is in freefall. As Washington Post writer Pete Vernon explains, “with shrinking circulations and an inability to provide the targeted marketing and detailed analytics of options such as Google and Facebook, print just isn’t as enticing to advertisers”. Meanwhile, online advertising doesn’t bring in a sufficient revenue stream either. Advertising is more profitable when distributed across hundreds of websites, based on real-time data and therefore targeted more effectively. Companies are therefore more reluctant to commit advertising to one source. Newspapers are consequently trapped by social media, which have morphed consumer behaviour and prompted a diversion of advertising away from news establishments, regardless of the fact that reach of digital newspapers has never been higher. Thus, the way newspapers are currently navigating the shift involves cutting costs year by year, to prevent the cost line from overtaking the revenue line. This is obviously not a sustainable strategy. As digital titans lap up advertising, it threatens the survival of journalism itself. Though digital profits have shown fairly disappointing profits so far, The Independent’s decision to axe its printing presses and paper distributions, and exist instead solely online, has shown promise.
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