Entries in Journalism (14)

Monday
Nov302009

Print Backsliding - Cause for Worry?

It's maybe time to close the book on the reality of the decline in newspapers and get on with the argument about the hole it leaves, or doesn't. The latest is summarized in a blog post on Reflections of a Newsosaur aptly called "Carnage continued in Q3 newspaper sales"

"Continuing 14 straight quarters of mostly accelerating declines, total print advertising in the third period fell a bit less than 29% to $5.8 billion. Interactive advertising sales, which the industry once hoped would be its salvation, dropped nearly 17% in the third quarter to $623 million, marking the sixth quarter in a row of declines in this crucial category."

This is stark evidence that in spite of industry claims to the contrary the legacy media infrastructure is, like Marx's hope for the State, simply withering away, and the end point of the decline isn't yet in sight.

It is what it is and there is likely no going back, even if I share the angst the diminution occasions. The important discussion now is what should be saved and how. In spite of the stupidity of much of today's 'entertainews' , we still need columnists like the Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson who keeps the current Canadian governing party in his sights and calls it out for every mendacious and insensitive word and act, which keeps him busy.  Democracy ought to have a vigorous fourth estate. Or, at least, it cant do without wise, critical, often cantankerous, always careful sentinels.

But let's be clear about a few things:

  1. The disappearance of print vehicles isn't the same thing as a flight from the consumption of news and information. People today are consuming more information and news than they ever have in the past. A lot of it is junk like TMZ.com and Perez Hilton's blog. (Then again, there have always been gossip, scandal, heartbreak and blood-first news books.) But it can't be denied that the rate of taking in news, facts and opinion is, in fact, going up.
  2. People are finding niche and important-to-them information, arguing with it, deep diving into it when it concerns them or affects their lives, and forming into groups when the news or chicanery requires action. There may be, to quote the 'Internationale' (there is a theme here you can tell) "a better world in birth."

I am in the camp which thinks the new substructure already exists for a strong new 'estate' of inventive, articulate (even if their metier is the image), critical guardians of democracy and its breeches. All the cream hasn't yet risen to the top as it has in print and television commentary. But there are beachheads, in Canada anyway, with the likes of David Eaves or some of the writers at the online newspaper The Tyee and, occasionally, The Torontoist.

So, there is no cause for worry because, as a recent article by David Carr concludes:

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful.

 

Friday
Aug142009

Future of Newspapers - Debate Rages (?)

Debate about the future of newspapers won't die for some time yet I think . . . at least among journalists, news media watchers, some bloggers and Clay Shirky.

Roy Greenslade on Greenslade Blog wrote this week on newspapers and magazines charging for their online content. Greenslade's title alone raises the key question: "Paid content is all the rage with US publishers - but where's the proof that anyone will pay?"

I chuckled over the comment from Steven Brill, founder of Journalism Online, in the piece that JO "has helped shift the debate over charging for online news from 'if' to 'when and how'" because beleaguered publishers have moved past the "abstract debate" to agree that paid content is the way ahead." (JO's goal is to help them get there.)

Now there's a shock right? Publishers think the solution to declining print revenues is to charge people for accessing onlne content.

Megan McArdle in The Atlantic online framed the debate marvellously this way "The problem besetting newspapers is not that there are hordes of bloggers giving it away for free . . . Even if every newspaper and magazine in the country entered into a binding cartel agreement not to put more than a smidgen of free content on their websites, newspapers would still be losing money, and closing by the dozens.  It's the economics, stupid . . . We're witnessing the death of a business model."

So how exactly is pushing people to pay for online content recognizing, as people like Shirky and McArdle (and dozens of others) have been rightly trying to point out, that the paid online content model which has been tried many times before will not revive the fortunes of "old" media.