When All The Ink Runs Dry

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The days of newsprint are up. No more newspapers fanned out on corner shop shelves, no more clamour of people pressing copies of the Evening Standard into your hands as you enter a London tube station. This is the not so distant future according to Ross Dawson, who has predicted that newsprint will die out in Britain by the year 2019.  If his forecast is correct then there are dark days ahead for the country’s journalists.

Dawson’s prediction has unsurprisingly provoked a media storm and the response has been sceptical at best, with the general consensus that newspapers will not be disappearing any time soon. It is true, however, that the way we receive information is evolving and although Dawson might be wrong about the date of newsprint’s disappearance, there is little doubt that our habits are changing and newspapers cannot continue forever in their current format.

There is already change in the air. All the major broadsheets have significant online content and The Times introduced a paywall for its website last year, with an announcement on 2 November 2010 that there had been a total 105,000 online sales since the subscription system was launched.

Although these figures may appear encouraging, they do not tell the full story. The overall number of 105,000 includes, as well as monthly subscribers, those who purchase a 24-hour pass to the website. Allowing that some will buy a daily pass on more than one occasion, the amount of people paying to access the website in reality may be much less than it seems. It is still early days for The Times paywall, but it is doubtful how many members of the public will pay for their news when there is so much free content easily available on the internet.

This all prompts serious concern within the industry about where to go next. Expansion of digital media would appear to be essential for the survival of newspapers as print journalism becomes less and less financially viable. Online content, however, is not necessarily any more profitable, as income is dependent upon advertising revenue that may not be sufficient to cover outgoings. The Guardian, for example, despite an abundance of online features, is currently believed to be losing around £30million a year.

The root of all these problems may be that since the advent of the Internet journalism has been slowly democratised. No longer do a few newspapers hold a monopoly in the field of reporting; the public can now turn to various sources for their news without having to fork out any of their hard-earned cash. And in the world of blogs, newspapers are no longer essential for comment and opinion. In the levelling virtual world anyone can voice their views.

There are both pros and cons to this online community of public journalism and comment. The Internet is an ideal platform from which ordinary people can share their opinions and engage with others, but there are those who argue that the proliferation of amateur websites and blogs dilutes the quality of reporting and devalues professional journalism. There is something to be said for this view, but as with anything it is just a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff. The internet offers many exciting opportunities for writers and readers alike which the media industry should be grabbing with both hands.

This is an age for entrepreneurial journalists such as Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times. He is the creator of ‘Dealbook’, a financial section of the newspaper that harnesses technology to link in business stories from different sources. Sorkin sees technological advances as offering the media industry new opportunities and refutes the view that technology has had a detrimental impact upon journalism. In interview with The Telegraph, he states that ‘Technology is not changing the story; it is just changing the way in which we deliver it’.

Student journalism, perhaps because it is a product of the digital generation, is well ahead of the curve. Most university newspapers, like our very own Wessex Scene, have regularly-updated websites and are fully integrated with Facebook and Twitter. Other university newspapers that are innovating the delivery of student media include Edinburgh’s The Student, which includes online polls and an option to download a digital copy of the paper, and York’s award-winning Nouse, which has incorporated podcasts and linked in mini-sites.

As student journalism is already beginning to grasp, the industry needs to get to grips with the massive and ever-growing realm of social media. In just a few short years this sector has exploded, with Facebook now at more than 500 million active users and Twitter recording an average of 65 million Tweets a day. Far from merely being platforms for people to connect with one another and share banal observations with the world, if used cannily these websites can revolutionise the way we receive news and information. As Andrew Ross Sorkin suggests, technology need not be the apocalypse of journalism; by allowing us to deliver the story in ever-changing ways, it might just be a new genesis.

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