Saturday, January 03, 2009

The shrinking newspaper industry – the dark ages

There is, to some of us, something sensual about the feel and smell of a fresh newspaper; the printery can be every bit as evocative as the bakery. Even transferred to the web a quality newspaper can still be evocative, but shifting with technology isn’t stemming a flowing tide and demise of quality journalism.

While media groups are searching for the silver bullet, the Knut to stem a determined flow, they invariably choose the wrong approach. Cost cutting, cosmetic make-overs, telemarketing and discounting are not cutting the mustard.

Increasingly former competitors are now pooling stories, increasingly local papers are buying in outside news to keep the dwindling ads apart. This is where the relevance content begins – content must be relevant to readers to hold interest. Sounds DOH!, but newspaper accountants don’t understand the concept.

My first editors/chief of staff’s insisted on two things – local names, and pics local of locals. Okay, that was regional, but even the metros and nationals need a nod to broad local to hold reader interest. That is why we are assured there was one of our nationals on board a plane wreck in Bulgaria.

I regularly take one of two hard copy newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald or the Australian; both broadsheets and only one owned by Murdoch. I guess they represent the serious right and soft left Aussie print. I only ever take Saturday papers because I can find all the news I need online; it’s the analysis I’m looking for.

I’m not concerned with pop culture, yet I’m with those who are. As newspapers seek to reduce costs they are making an unforgivable mistake: The shades of opinion are being buried, the relevance to individual readers is being rejected. Regardless of core interests, readers are still looking for either affirmation of information. ‘Newspaper lite’ doesn’t meet reader expectation or needs.

Now I don’t deny my concern with the shrinking news media holds an extra dimension for a professional writer. As much as I love the tech revolution, everyone is a writer and skill or discipline become lost in the quest for the dollar. No tears for we old journos, but lots of tears for quality reporting and commentary.

Fortunately history teaches us that ‘everything old is new again’; all this will pass and the desire for the broad spread of news will return. For now though it does feel like the dark ages of real reporting, as my old editors would have it.


abi said...

I feel your pain, Cart. Even in the age of the Internet, newspapers are still a great bargain, given the wealth of information and entertainment you get for a few cents a copy.

Newspapers are going to have to adjust to stay afloat, given the new realities. But you can't beat a newspaper for convenience, and as omnipresent as the ads are, they aren't nearly as distracting as the blinking, vibrating, color-bursting animations on the internet.

Cart said...

Abi, I hear you. Sadly I'm inclined to think we are seeing the slow death of newspapers, and I'm not sure they'll translate successfully to the web
They still need to drive advertising and TV and the web have shifted the audience to faux news, infotainment or just plain diversion.
I've got a sense that real news will devolve to dedicated amateurs, for thoe dedicated to information. I hope I'm wrong.

lindsaylobe said...

I buy the Australian Financial Review and the Age - but increasingly I am irritated by the frequency of articles which I already read, typically from Bloomberg. The absence of investigatory journalism and original noteworthy stories seems to becoming much more widespread.
Best wishes

Cart said...

Fin Review is generally a bit arcane for me, but I used to love the Age. I still blame the accountant mindset - sorry Lindsay.
I guess what I mean is handing over marketing to finance, instead of working them together. Money is not the product, but the world seems to believe it is :(

D.K. Raed said...

I only actually pay for an occasional local paper (which I've fondly nicknamed after saliva after it leaves your mouth). Where else can I find out local news and local events? I live in a small market. Oh, they do have an online version of our local paper, but it loads too slowly for my blood pressure, and they only post stubs of articles. If I depended on the online version, I'd never know about local plays and entertainment and which neighborhood teenagers have been cited for mooning sidewalk tourists on the main drag!

That causes me to wonder if maybe this type of local printed news is safe from the trend away from newspapers.

BTW, the writers and editors of our local news are only vaguely journalists. Half the time they omit important details, like dates & addresses for events ... but I guess if I wanted accuracy, I'd live in a bigger market.

Cart said...

DK, local news is so easy, but the art is being lost. I note even regional media are cutting back on covering state and federal issues related to the local area as well. No more busting crooks like former congressman Cunningham without local input.