Noel Doran: “People have been predicting the demise of newspapers since the wireless was invented…”

This piece on the Today Programme this morning reminds me of last week’s Hearts and Minds piece on the recent decision by local government to change its spending regime, and Alan’s report on the ways in which the Johnston Press is rejigging it’s own output for online production… Here’s Julia Paul’s excellent piece from last week (which I’ve inadvertently cut Nick Garbutt’s important point off before he finishes it):

And the studio discussion (which includes Alan):

All I’d add is that if you listen to the Naughtie piece on the Today Programme page, the critical note is him buying a copy of the Newcastle Chronicle, and the Newsagent’s request for 45p… There’s a critical balance to be made between making money, (which blogs still generally struggle with) and engaging profitably with new platforms, which blogs, whether run by msm journalists or not, are still well ahead on…

This week’s edition of Hearts and Minds goes out tonight at 19.30 on BBC2 NI…

  • “the Naughtie piece on the Today Programme page, the critical note”

    I think an even more critical though related note with NI relevance is this quote from James:

    It’s not just about jobs, it’s about journalism, community, maybe even democracy

    At present IMO too much power resides with the OFMDFM and, to a lesser extent, with the Ministers, Special Advisers and Permanent Secretaries; the Committees and the Watchdogs lack either independence or teeth – perhaps a combination of the two.

    I’d imagine our main source of news and analysis lies with the broadcast media but we need the print media especially in that analytical role. Blogs and other forms of social media such as Twitter and Facebook have the advantage of immediacy and a certain independence from authority but they still lack a mass audience and credibility that comes with time and experience.

    Is the proposed reduction in spend on Government advertising an economic measure or is designed to inhibit, indirectly, the flow of information to the public? The recent apparent general policy of truncating official minutes dramatically curtails such a flow but IMO is receiving insufficient attention from the media.

    Today’s ‘Documents destroyed after Malone Road land sale probe’ story in the Belfast Telegraph IMO helps to redress the balance of power.

  • Framer

    James Naughtie on ‘Today’ toured down memory lane this morning visiting his old newspaper haunts – but they are all at risk of closure. Apparently it is the web that is to blame.
    Nary a mention that it is the BBC’s massively subsidised [by us] news websites that are killing them off.
    There won’t be more than a few newspapers left in a decade and with Murdoch seen off, the BBC will be the sole purveyor of news and employer of journalists, aside from the government that is.
    BTW what do 160 Stormont press officers do when there is no press?

  • cynic2

    Why are some people so hung up on newspapers. Yes I read them most days but it is a dying medium. Journal;ism is alive and well ….but is being forced to become more efficient and go on-line. This is just an extension of the move from metal type to electronic production in the 1980-s.

    Despite what Noel says I suspect that by 2030 newspapers will be dead – certainly at local level.

  • Mick Fealty

    Because it is still a fairly critical mass medium. Regional journalism is particularly important from the point of view of a functioning democracy…

    I’ve never taken the view that blogs can in and of themselves replace the MSM, at least not without some of the considerable investment it takes to keep a newspaper going…

    When Naughtie talked about an optimistic alternative up the road, and then he said ‘university’, I have to admit my heart sank somewhat…

    Money is what provides the means to do journalism well… it pays for the time it takes to bring home stories… The mundane as well as the scoop…

    So money’s the key… At the moment, the advertising industry is very wary of the new models and above all they struggle over how to demonstrate the value of online audiences…

    That’s because this is all very new and there are no comfortable conventions for them to sell their wealthy clients. Print on the other hand is conventional, and is understood well by advertisers (a point well made by Mike Gilson in Julia’s clip above). Here’s Clay Shirky writing on heritage of print a few years back:

    If you want to know why newspapers are in such trouble, the most salient fact is this: Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and to run. This bit of economics, normal since Gutenberg, limits competition while creating positive returns to scale for the press owner, a happy pair of economic effects that feed on each other. In a notional town with two perfectly balanced newspapers, one paper would eventually generate some small advantage — a breaking story, a key interview — at which point both advertisers and readers would come to prefer it, however slightly. That paper would in turn find it easier to capture the next dollar of advertising, at lower expense, than the competition. This would increase its dominance, which would further deepen those preferences, repeat chorus. The end result is either geographic or demographic segmentation among papers, or one paper holding a monopoly on the local mainstream audience.

    For a long time, longer than anyone in the newspaper business has been alive in fact, print journalism has been intertwined with these economics. The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart was willing to subsidize the Baghdad bureau. This wasn’t because of any deep link between advertising and reporting, nor was it about any real desire on the part of Wal-Mart to have their marketing budget go to international correspondents. It was just an accident. Advertisers had little choice other than to have their money used that way, since they didn’t really have any other vehicle for display ads.

    The old difficulties and costs of printing forced everyone doing it into a similar set of organizational models; it was this similarity that made us regard Daily Racing Form and L’Osservatore Romano as being in the same business. That the relationship between advertisers, publishers, and journalists has been ratified by a century of cultural practice doesn’t make it any less accidental.

    The competition-deflecting effects of printing cost got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did.

    I don’t think (in fact, I know it isn’t) ‘print’ is dead when you have online sites like Politico migrating bespoke offline products and selling them off the street in DC…

    As Thomas Kuhn might put it, this is a problem that requires ‘the proper sort of addicts’ to resolve it…

  • cynic2

    “it is still a fairly critical mass medium. Regional journalism is particularly important from the point of view of a functioning democracy…”

    I agree completely on both points Mick.

    AT this stage of the game print isnt dead but I believe that within 20 years it will be – possibly much sooner. I agree too that local journalism is vitally important.

    My point is that newsprint is just a channel. I fully expect we will see new models arise to deliver that product to the customer electronically and at a much cheaper price. For all the (often justified) hype on the spread of the internet so far, we really are only at the start of this process. New technologies are emerging that will lead to the electronic page and devices not yet thought off that will have mass penetration locally and internationally. The app approach is especially interesting – for example when Newt Emerson was delivering the Portadown Times every week I would have paid to read it.

    Journalism isn’t on its knees – like death and taxes it will always be with us. However I suggest that the real challenge for journalists will be how to make a living in this new world. For example your quote on companies and consumers getting out of their “old relationship with the publisher is true but Journalists are in the same position. Why pay a middle man to convey your product to market? Why have to live within the editorial constraints of a publisher and proprietor?

    Not all journalism will survive in this market. Noone will pay to read about the endless round of Rotary Lunches and Bring and Buy Sales – but they may do for local crime reports, death notices (morbid I know but the consumers want them) and news of real interest or it may be possible to create a profitable site that combines that with local advertising.

    Journalism unleashed!!! Doesn’t it make you wish you were 20 again and starting all over?

  • cynic2

    Sorry I meant Portadown News!!!