Print Media – A Matter of Life And Death

This week’s course materials sent us down the rabbit hole of how the digital environment is changing the delivery of news. It was a timely journey with word that Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, was to purchase the Washington Post and related mastheads for a cool US$250million. As reported by the Post, the vendor initially approached the sale as unthinkable but went on to justify the deal as being necessary to ensure continued growth for the Post as opposed to merely survival. Bezos was apparently chosen as the anointed buyer due to his technical brilliance.

It is not beyond the realm to suggest that other high profile newspapers will go the same way in the shorter to medium term. The financial troubles of print or “old school media” (OSM) in grappling with unsuccessful paywalls, fragmentation of audiences across multiple platforms and the pressures to retain quality in their journalistic endeavours are well chronicled. The fact that these topics make for interesting reading is highlighted by the recent release of two books providing commentary on the decline of the Fairfax empire *. Perhaps if readers are reluctant to pay to go behind Fairfax’s paywall, they will be less reluctant to pay to get perspectives on how a once robust and powerful media empire now finds itself losing relevance. The books, Fairfax: The Rise And Fall by Colleen Ryan and Killing Fairfax: Packer, Murdoch & the Ultimate Revenge by Pamela Williams , both of which have shades of the ’80s TV series, Dallas, are ironically being heralded as examples of professional independent journalism.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

The demise of Fairfax is being played out against the backdrop of convergence and divergence. Convergence generally refers to the notion of integration between different platforms. For example, your computer is no longer just a computer, it can also double as a television, newspaper and a telecommunications device. Translated into the media space, this means that the same news story can be delivered through multiple platforms and people are tending to rely more and more on online news sources. Online news is generally categorized by the notions of automation, personalisation and participation and news production, once the sole province of big business is being shared with cottage industry players. OSM has generally been seen to be slow to respond to the new converged environment, losing their main sources of advertising revenue, namely classified advertising, to online players and initially providing online news for free as a supplement to their mainstream print activities. All of this leads to a fragmentation, if not a complete erosion, of audiences who are generally now reluctant to pay for news content that they can obtain free from other sources. This is where divergence becomes relevant, because in the new digital world, news production has now become decentralized and instead of the one to many news dissementation model, we have moved to the many to many or many to few model, leading to financial impacts for OSM stables and their journalists.

It is certainly an interesting time to be watching the news media space as the latest newspaper circulation figures released today attest. Should this be a time of fear or a time of opportunity? Will traditional journalists be able to rise to the challenge of the digital media world and share their public writing space with all of us?

You might be looking at the cover of the last magazine I will ever buy

You might be looking at the cover of the last magazine I will ever buy

In an interesting juxtaposition, the changing way I receive news was recently brought home to me by the birth of Prince George. This was a wonderful feel-good story involving the giving of life and the birth of a new royal generation to a smart looking prince and his beautiful princess. I, along with millions of others around the world eagerly awaited news of the royal birth. And where were we looking for it? It wasn’t in the newspapers or TV, it was where we could get realtime news, the Internet. We marvelled at Kate’s poise and real world post-pregnancy figure and we watched in wonder as Prince William doted on his new son and looked just as awkward carrying him as every first time father. In the following week after the birth, the traditional 10 page magazine spread appeared on newsstands. What was different though was that they now carried the same pictures that we had already seen online days before. In what was probably a slightly nostalgic move, I bought a copy as a keepsake as looking through Internet archives does not have the same feel as flipping through glossies as a reminder of a major world event. Not yet anyway.

But what this signaled to me was that my weekly news entertainment magazine habit had died a sad death. Magazine publication day used to be a highlight of my week, now magazines were reserved for special events or overseas travel. As an asside, there is nothing like catching up on celebrity gossip and leisurely rereading the same article three times on a long haul flight.

The funny thing was, I had not really noticed that my magazine buying habits had changed until these life and death events. I had effortlessly slipped into reading entertainment news online along with most everyone else and was reshaping news culture.

Are you still prepared to pay for news? Are you worried about what will happen to the quality of journalism in the digital world? Do you still buy magazines?

* For my overseas readers, Fairfax is a long standing media group in Australia and is the main competitor of the Murdoch lead News Media group. It controls several of the capital city major newspapers, such as the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review (being the Wall Street Journal equivalent). Australia has one of the most concentrated media ownership markets in the world.
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6 thoughts on “Print Media – A Matter of Life And Death

  1. Judy, I think Bezos was looking for content. The real news writers and investigative journaiists are needed more than ever now. A large dilemma for all of us is the assignment of credibility to news sources that don’t deserve and it seems every news source is now being labeled as left leaning or right leaning. That is highly unfortunate. Which is why real news sources have to live on. Take care, BTG

  2. Our own major Oregon newspaper is going digital: The Oregonian. Hard copies for newsstand or subscription purchase are only being published Friday through Sunday. The remaining days can be read online. I find this change in [overall] reading habits (electronic) extremely isolating….

    Isolation is not healthy…on any front.

    Thank you for sharing your course work. Jots.

  3. The times sure ARE changing. I have never been much for print magazines but I like to enjoy my daily newspaper with my coffee every morning. I have a desktop and a laptop now. Hated the laptop but now I carry it everywhere (that’s just to keep up with blogs and email). Have been considering a iPad and this week will finally get a new fangled phone, darn it.

    I understand the push for digital everything. Isn’t it all about money? I don’t like to read online. I don’t own a Kindle and any of those electronic book libraries. I’m still stuck in old habits but to be sure, I, and the rest of us are forced to accept change because change is constant and you get only what you’re able to get your hands on.

    Wonderful, thought provoking post as always. Great conversation material.

  4. I get most of my news online nowadays too, except for the addition of public radio on the way to and from work. No more print newspapers at all in our household. I do still enjoy some glossy magazines–those focused on topics I want to follow in the business world or those that feed my gardening hobby.

  5. I enjoyed reading your well-written blog post combining two very different events 🙂 Like you, I also noticed Duchess Catherine´s post-pregnancy figure and admired her for being very natural!

    I am personally sad to see the decline of printed news media. And yet, I also read some news on the Internet, although I still prefer watching the news in the telly. Or I read the text-TV (something that I have done for years and years and enjoy). However, I have noticed a set-back in the quality of writing on text-TV. It is not nearly as accurate and well-written as it used to be, and that annoys me.

    Perhaps we just get what we pay for? Or rather what we do NOT pay for? There is no doubt to me that a quality newspaper with educated people writing it (be it journalists, authors, analysts or other professionals) is FAR much better than some random bit of news on the Internet. I prefer reading long, well-analysed in-depth articles and for that, I still definitely prefer either a newspaper or magazine. The Internet does not give me the depth and accuracy I am looking for.

    My dad is of the “old school”. He is from the generation, who did not have a TV until he was actually a young adult. This generation got their news from the radio and from the daily newspaper. Actually, my great granddad used to read several newspapers each day. There are probably not many people left who still do this. My dad still buys his newspaper each and every day, and he varies among them, he does not read the same one every day. I enjoy seeing how much my dad enjoys reading those newspapers, but I am afraid that his generation (he was born in 1940) is of the last ones who does this.

    In conclusion, I would actually hate to see the Internet controlling all news. I want my newspaper, if not on a daily basis like dad, then at least a quality one I can buy every once in a while.

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