The demise of the newspaper since the digital age

by Scott Thomson

This is a piece i wrote at college last year about the move from newspapers in print to online  news and the affect it is having on the industry. I feel it is particularly relevant since we discussed it last week in James’ Social Media lecture.

It is no secret that the printed word is becoming a less cherished resource. Why would anyone wish to pay a fee for news which they can download in a matter of seconds to read for free, or have already seen on the previous nights ten o’clock news. What can be done to stop the rot of bleeding circulation figures of the printed word as online figures continue to surge, or is it too late?

The prognosis from the doctor states that for newspapers the outlook is bleak.

In late 2010, broadcaster and journalist Jon Snow gave a guest lecture at Edinburgh University on the topic of ‘A changing media in a changing world’. He said that “The newspaper is in trouble” and said it had 25 years left.

The concept of the newspaper-the earliest form of media communication- has drastically changed over the past 30 years since the beginnings of the digital revolution. At the start of the digital boom newspapers benefited greatly. The growth of new electronics meant that more newspapers could be printed in a shorter period of time, resulting in production costs being reduced, while the scope for circulation could increase.

Sadly this benefit was short lived. With the growth of newspapers in the early stages of the Digital Revolution also came a growth in broadcasting which brought an explosion in satellite TV channels and the availability of 24 hour free news. This advance in technology meant that news could be sent from a source to a transmitter at a news centre in a matter of minutes, which greatly reduced the value of the printed word.

The World Wide Web also resulted from the digital revolution and this meant even more competition for newspapers as online news websites began to sprout up. As well as being competition in terms of news, it also became a challenge to newspapers due to the opportunity to advertise online, thus increasing advertising space and therefore reducing the cost of advertising.

Newspapers are not what they used to be; why wait for the paper boy to squeeze your daily newspaper through your letter box each morning when it is more convenient to connect to the internet and read news which is more up-to date?

Today internet consumers can access breaking news from a multitude of sources, and no longer have to rely on the newspaper to get their fix of the day’s news.

Newspapers circulation figures are declining due to the advance in technology and the growth of citizen journalism. The Scotsman’s circulation figures tell the complete story of how the digital revolution has affected the circulation of newspapers. Since the 1980’s, the circulation of The Scotsman has plummeted six figures. In the early 1980’s the average sold per day was almost 150,000, whereas in June 2010 the circulation was said to be 45,000, a catastrophic change which symbolises the full effect that the availability of free news has had on the newspaper industry.

In order to tackle the slump, The Scotsman’s online editor, Alan Greenwood, revealed that in the past few years they have made steps to increase their online presence. He said: “At scotsman.com we continue to expand and develop our digital output, for instance with the introduction of smartphone and tablet applications, but research shows there is still substantial demand for a print product and this will continue to be the case for some time.”

The online expansion of The Scotsman has helped to cement their position as an online news website and has become the most visited news and current affairs website in Scotland, attracting in excess of two million users each month. However access to the website is largely free, apart from a small section, so the benefits to The Scotsman in terms of money are minimal. Greenwood revealed however the expansion of the internet has given them the opportunity to promote The Scotsman ‘brand’: “We continue to promote the digital brands through in-paper and online advertising, via email newsletter and on social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.”

It seems the only way to respond to a circulation drop is to move with the times and expand the online presence which has created a circulation drop in the first place. But surely by not charging for online news you are effectively shooting yourself in the foot as consumers will get used to free access to news. Greenwood disagrees: “It is unlikely, whether newspapers continue to be printed or not, that major media companies will continue to publish content without charge. News International, for instance, has introduced paywalls at its title and other publishers are experimenting with various payment models. The willingness of consumers to purchase newspaper content for smartphones and tablets shows a growing recognition that quality journalism is worth paying for.”

The growth of online journalism and the drop in circulation figures is also having an effect on the work of the average journalist. Many journalists are not being given the chance to explore and go out of the office to speak to people face to face due to cost implications. Instead people are huddled up in offices, armed with only a computer and a phone; this represents a new type of journalist and forms a new image of what we perceive a journalist to be.

Many journalists aren’t being given the resources to put together a story. News stories about international issues like the earthquake in Japan and the uprising in Libya are being put together in offices across the UK using sources such as Twitter and news agencies, for example, Reuters. Due to the cost cutting measures at most newspapers, newspapers can no longer afford to send journalists abroad and instead journalists are sat in offices churning out a story from a press release.

Michael Macleod - Guardian Edinburgh Blogger

Michael Macleod, the Edinburgh beat-blogger for The Guardian, knows too well the difference between an online journalist and a newspaper reporter, having previously worked for a local paper in Clackmannanshire, the ‘Wee County News’, and explains the plight facing modern journalists who are stuck in offices. He said: “A lot of national press reporters are stuck in an office and cannot go out and report on the street and I think this affects the quality of the journalism. It is a shame because people want to get away from the desk and speak to people face to face, but are unable to due to costs.”

The beat-blogger is part of an experiment by The Guardian to expand its presence across the UK to report on news in local areas. Macleod is responsible for the running of the ‘Edinburgh Local’ part of the website which focuses on events and local stories happening in Edinburgh.

Blogs are another part of citizen journalism which is having an effect on newspapers. They represent a chance for people to raise their own opinions and can cover almost anything in terms of topic. Macleod, a firm believer in the advantages of online journalism, doesn’t think that newspapers will die out. He said: “Even though news online can go into more depth I still don’t think newspapers will die because people like to hold and feel that day’s news. They are not as useful as online blogs and news sites but I think they are still important in terms of reflecting public feeling, and the fact they are visible in shops.”

Online blogs represent an opportunity to cover anything and Macleod believes that this adds to their value since a wide range of topics can be covered. He said: “Social media and  blogs are things which I point to. because with newspapers you can’t cover everything, whereas online you can link to other places and refer people. It is a different way of reporting and the journalism is different. Online is definitely a good thing for journalism.”

Blogs allow journalists and aspiring writers the chance to express their own opinions without the pressures of a newspaper editor. In his role as Edinburgh’s Guardian beat-blogger, Macleod is able to write what he wants without the influence of an editor. He said: “Online is great because it lets everyone choose what opinions they wish to form. There is less editorial opinion in online blogs compared to the way a newspaper story is put out. I don’t have much editorial influence at all from anyone else. I don’t have anyone telling me which angle to take and my judgement allows me to decide what the headline will be which is something which doesn’t happen in newspapers at all.”

The growth of social media has formed a new type of journalist; the general public are getting involved, conveying their views through websites like Twitter and Facebook. The uprising in Libya was all over the world of Twitter as locals uploaded pictures and live feeds of what was happening, giving us the chance to form our own opinions.

Many journalists now use Twitter and Facebook as a source of news in order to find out about the latest stories and to find new contacts. Macleod revealed that without Twitter and Facebook he wouldn’t be able to do many aspects of his job. He said: “Each morning I do a roundup of what is going on around the city. On Twitter I have searches for every neighbourhood in Edinburgh so I can keep up-to date with the news in every area and I am able to check this on my phone. I would find it a lot harder without Twitter and Facebook.”

So it seems the way journalism is heading is online. With almost all newspapers now running an online website alongside their publication, it looks as if online news will continue to grow. Newspapers for the foreseeable future look set to remain but they will have to constantly adapt to meet the needs of the public. With free news being available online it will only be so long until newspapers cease to exist as they crumble due to the plummeting circulation figures. If newspapers are to remain, it seems they will become smaller and smaller, possibly filled with opinion rather than news and generally available weekly rather than daily. The times of people going out each morning to collect their paper will soon be long gone as the internet continues to expand. The doctors’ prognosis is seemingly correct; time is slowly running out for the printed word.

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2 Responses

  1. Was this your Graded Unit aye? Good stuff.

    P.S. – use the more tag button!!!!!

  2. whats the more tag button lol

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