My presentation is on journalism and the web. (Follow the link to see Powerpoint Presentation.) I want to focus specifically on the endangered species of the newspaper and its poacher “new media”.
Press Baron Rupert Murdoch once described his wealthy income from his newspaper business as “rivers of gold” (The Economist unpaginated). However, in 2005 Murdoch said “sometimes rivers dry up” (The Economist). At present, the newspaper industry is experiencing what Eddie Hobbs would call a cyclical trough; the lowest point in an economic cycle. Paid circulation rates of newspapers have declined. As a result, numerous newspaper companies, particularly in the U.S., have filed for bankruptcy. Although it may appear that this crisis is only due to the economic downturn, competition from internet media is a large casual factor.
When newspapers dominated the media landscape, they were seen as living texts capable of documenting history as it occurred. However, since then the newspaper as a medium has changed very little. Despite its apparent visual differences from its predecessors, the newspaper has failed to maintain pace with a rapidly advancing society. Waiting for the newspaper to arrive to get ones daily gossip fix is a thing of the past. In an age where we can now receive instant up-to-minute updates from the internet, the newspaper has fallen so far behind that some readers see it as yesterday’s news.
Funnily enough, there is a sense of irony in the dilemma facing the newspaper industry. This crisis is happening at a time when the demand for news is actually very high, but people are simply not willing to pay for it. I suppose in a way it is comparable to the music industry.
Consumers of Journalism are turning towards the free news content on the web. Readers’ habits are changing because of the internet’s search functionality. Without the hassle of getting newsprint on your fingers, the internet can provide a few hundred thousand hits in less than a second.
Not only that, the internet also provides RSS Feeds. RSS stands for: Really Simple Syndication or sometimes Rich Site Summary. These are a category of web feed formats used for publishing frequently updated works like news headlines and blog entries. Once you have obtained a Feed reader from such services as iGoogle, My Yahoo or Msn, you can subscribe to your favourite sites that display the RSS Feed logo. As a result, the internet becomes like a constant breaking news ticker that will provide you with instant updates, instead of having to search for them yourself. With technology like this it is understandable why internet killed the newspaper star. (Follow the link for a video explanation of RSS Feeds).
However, the newspaper industry isn’t going down without a fight. Having remained loyal to Gutenberg for years, they finally followed their consumer market to cyberspace with the distribution of online newspapers. Some examples of the most popular web-based newspaper sites are The Washington Post and The New York Times. The advantage of an online version is its ability to reach more readers in less time and thus generating more debate and discussion on a global scale. Unfortunately, HTML does not spell salvation. There is a problem and that is how do you get readers to pay for news they can get elsewhere for free? (Follow the links for on-line newspaper sites: New York Times ; Washington Post ; Irish Times.)
The New York Times introduced a subscription-based service know as TimesSelect which lasted two years before being scrapped for a subscription free, public domain site. As can be seen, walled gardens are not very popular. If consumers of journalism are not getting their news from print or digital newspapers, where are they getting it online?
The answer is news aggregation websites. A news aggregation website is a website that contains collected headlines. Such websites include Yahoo! News, Google News, Drudge Report, The Huffington Post and breitbart.com. For example, Google Fast Flip which is an online news aggregator attempts to incorporate print publication into the digital realm. Its goal is to mimic the experience of flicking through a newspaper and it is also available on iPhone. However, critics condemn it for being anachronistic because it maintains the failure of print media by lacking multimedia features such as links to other sites. (Follow link to Google Fast Flip).
Also, we live in a time of, what Journalist David Shenk calls, “Data Smog” (Shenk 1). Data smog is information overload which you’re probably experiencing a bit from this presentation. But, it is one of the biggest flaws of news aggregation websites. The sheer volume of news articles available can be extremely overwhelming and difficult to navigate through. Critics argue that 80% of the content from these sites are sourced from newspapers which means that the newspaper industry is being ripped off big time.
With that in mind, we also have serious issues with authority and reliability. The battle is between the internet and newspapers, but who can we trust? Can blogs and twitter compete with pure journalism? Or, will the death of the news paper mark the death of daily reliable news? Accountability is being substituted by a cornucopia of unreliable bloggers with zero credentials. Anyone with a half decent keyboard and an internet connection can become a citizen journalist in a matter of minutes.
However, citizen journalism may not be all that bad. Yahoo! Buzz and Digg are community based news article websites which permit users to publish their personal news stories under editorial control and free of charge. I think citizens working in conjunction with journalists would better the future of journalism and so it is a smart move on their behalf. (Links to Yahoo! Buzz and Digg).
So what does the future have in store for the newspaper industry? Meyers predicts “the last daily reader will disappear in September 2043” (Crosbie unpaginated), but other analysts believe the end is much closer. It is obvious that URLs are here to stay. So in order for the newspaper to survive, it must embrace new media. Nick Bilton, a technologist for the Times, said “Paper is dying but it’s just a device. Replacing it with pixels is a better experience.” (Singel unpaginated).
However, the newspaper of the future may not necessarily have to discard its print roots. It may assume a hybrid form consisting of part-print and part-internet. This can be already seen from AnnArbor which is an online newspaper with limited printed editions. Not only does it provide news, it acts also as a point of social interaction where users can chat, share videos and photos.
Alternatively, the newspaper’s future could be seen, not as a death, but as a rebirth. Their relocation online cannot be done by a simple copy-and-paste manoeuvre, especially when the most popular choice of access is mobile devices. Therefore, the newspaper will have to adapt to a new form that will have the interactive multimedia functionality of the web, but also the attractive layout of print. Consequently, the high-tech, futuristic e-newspaper of the 2054 world of Minority Report may not be that far away after all. (Follow the link to see futuristic newspaper.)
Other sources of interest
For a glimpse at one seriously cool, futuristic e-newspaper.
Some more info. about the death of the newspaper on newspaper deathwatch.
Crosbie, Vin. “What Newspapers and Their Web Sites Must Do to Survive” OJR: The Online Journalism Review.
Single, Ryan.“Times Techie Envisions the Future of News”. Wired.
Shenk, David. Data Smog: Surviving the information Glut. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.
The Economist. “Who killed the newspaper?”
Womack, David.“Reading the newspaper with Khoi Vinh” . Adobe.