Originally published 10/04/2015
Cave-dwellers drew pictures on walls to record major events: the killing of a great mammoth and hunting dangerous predators (The Toronto Star, 2005); two thousand years ago Romans placed notices in public places (ibid) for community consumption. These may be the earliest examples of news publishing. Throughout history media formats have risen and have been felled by more refined, more accessible forms of news distribution. Today newspapers, the great news format of the last four centuries, face the fate of cave drawings and Rome’s public noticeboards. The evolution of publishing formats makes clear the demise of the newspaper is an inevitability and, instead of holding on to the old, we should be fully embracing the arrival of its digital successor.
In 2006 Rupert Murdoch acknowledged the growth of digital media had created “a new generation of media consumers . . . demanding content when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it” (Gibson, 2006), pointing to the decline of “the old elite [newspapers] in our industry” (ibid) and a move towards a digital future.
The newspaper age dawned 150 years after Gutenberg first began printing bibles and the first commercial paper was published in 1605, in Strassburg, Germany (Weber, 2006); this launched the world into an era of connectivity, allowing far-reaching dissemination of news, political discussion and talk on culture. By the second half of the seventeenth century newspapers were the most widely-read non-religious texts in the world (ibid).
The format remained virtually unchanged and unchallenged for 400 years: paper, ink, print, purchase. By the end of the 1990s US publishers were recording $50 billion-a-year profits (Newspaper Association of America, 2012). But digitalisation made its entrance into news media soon after and by 2011 newspaper profits dropped to less than half of those in the 90s (ibid).
Remember: newspaper’s losses haven’t been wholly unrecovered by digital news and, despite the doom-and-gloom attitude toward news’ conversion to digital media, the publishing world’s financial downturn isn’t necessarily as dire as it is perhaps purported to be in the mainstream. Worldwide digital advertising revenue for news publishers rose to $37.3 billion in 2012 (McCarthy, 2013), with worldwide advertising expenditure estimated to exceed $163 billion by 2016 (ibid). If they’re thrifty, online news outlets stand to grab a piece of this ever-growing cash cow. Online news publishers must make themselves an appealing host for advertising space. If they can achieve this, journalism’s golden age needn’t die with the newspaper.
With the newspaper industry’s impending retirement (or redundancy) moving closer and with the media’s focus over the last decade having shifted toward developing digital news formats, why do so many call for the paper to be retained? If Rupert Murdoch, owner of the world’s fifth-largest media conglomerate (Milord, 2013), one who would stand to benefit massively from the newspaper’s survival, can see the future of news as a digital platform, why are so many clinging to the outdated?
Purely sentimental reasons, surely.
Google “How to save newspapers” and you enter a realm of misery and despair rivalling that of Hell in Dante’s Inferno. Within pages of rescue packages for the dying format, madly-paling-water-out-of-the-sinking-ship-to-delay-her-going-under plans reign supreme. Ideas like bringing back “fun editorial personalities” (McAleenan Jr, 2013) to turning the paper online and “giv[ing] away 100 million iPads” (Young, 2011) to increase readership either fall short of the target or don’t even leave the archer’s bow. The end of newspapers is an evolutionary trend and the old will be replaced by the new.
The newspaper industry is declining faster than any other industry on earth (Barth, 2012) because evolution is pushing the media toward a superior platform. Digital media isn’t just the outlet of lazy or cheap consumers. Online news is the location for turned-on, news savvy readers who know what they want, when they want it, as they want it.
At 410-years-old, the newspaper is lying on its deathbed and its grave being readied. Any dreams its burial will be avoided are reserved only for the weeping widows of newspaper’s heyday – its owners, cashed-up editors and lavishly funded investigative journalists. The focus for publishers should be on transferring the positives from print news to online media, and all readers should embrace this new wave of news media. Without limits on the use of videos, audio cuts, photographs or story length, only online media can accommodate the immediacy demanded by modern human interest. The days of rummaging through a 100-page broadsheet have passed. An interest-piquing headline on Facebook will direct a reader to a website with all of the next day’s paper’s news, only now it’s free and obtainable without driving to the newsagent in the morning. In one click a newspaper reader is lost. With an estimated 1.23 billion monthly users on Facebook (Ross, 2014), a whole lot of papers are left sitting on the newsagent’s stand. News is now delivered to the reader based on set interests and reading history. Any newspaper-v-online debate is like Bjorn Borg using a wooden racquet against Alexander Volkov’s graphite – one may be a classic, but its successor is simply superior.
The newspaper achieved its goal from its 17th-century roots to the present. The quality of newspapers hasn’t dropped, but the format has been rendered impractical by digitalisation. We’re constantly developing new ways to interact, educate and provide more refined digital services. When superior technologies arrive the old is relegated to the history books. Why then are we trying to buck the trend and hold onto the out-dated paper? Today’s headlines are available at the click of a mouse or the tap of a screen. A theoretically endless catalogue of daily news from anywhere in the world is a click away, yet we’re trying to preserve the abacus over the calculator.
Digital media isn’t a passing trend; we should look forward and determine how to secure a solid future for online journalism. “Connectivity” is the buzz word of digital media and it’s time journalism adopts it with open arms. Media publishers no longer sit at the top of the tree, they’re picking up the fallen apples with the rest of the community. Rather than looking back at how great news production used to be, the focus should be on fully integrating journalism into an increasingly digital world.
Newspapers have had their place in media culture for four centuries and have played a major role in discussing the highest and lowest moments of human history, but the newspaper age has passed and, like Borg, maybe it’s time to retire the old racquet.
Barth, John. 2012. How newspapers can survive. Accessed 07 April, 2015. http://edition.cnn.com/2012/03/20/opinion/barth-newspapers-decline/
Gibson, Owen. 2006. Internet means end for media barons, says Murdoch. The Guardian. Accessed 07 April, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/media/2006/mar/14/newmedia.studentmediaawards
McCarthy, Alison. 2013. Worldwide Ad Spending Forecast: Emerging Markets, Mobile Provide Opportunities for Growth. eMarketer. http://www.slideshare.net/catchadigital/emarketer-worldwideadspendingforecast
McAleenan Jr, Tim. 2013. How To Save The Newspaper Industry. The Conservative Income Investor. Accessed 07 April, 2015. http://theconservativeincomeinvestor.com/2013/09/07/how-to-save-the-newspaper-industry/
Milord, Joseph. 2013. The World’s 10 Largest Media Conglomerates. Elite Daily. Accessed 08 April, 2015. http://elitedaily.com/money/the-worlds-10-largest-media-conglomerates/
Newspaper Association of America, 2012. 2012 state of the news media. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Ross, Monique. 2014. Facebook turns 10: the World’s largest social network in numbers. ABC News. Accessed 08 April, 2015. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-04/facebook-turns-10-the-social-network-in-numbers/5237128
Sasseen, Jane., Olmstead, Kenny., & Mitchell, Amy. 2013. Digital: By The Numbers. The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism: The State of the News Media 2013. intensify/digital-by-the-numbers/#fn-12965-3http://www.stateofthemedia.org/2013/digital-as-mobile-grows-rapidly-the-pressures-on-news-
Toronto Star. September 18, 2005. Extra! Extra! Read all about the history of Newspapers. http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.uwa.edu.au/docview/438871885?accountid=14681
Young, Antony. 2011. How to Save the Newspaper Industry. Advertising Age. Accessed 07 April