National and local newspapers across the world are facing their most radical restructuring in history; scores are folding as advertisers migrate to online advertising. Cutbacks have led to hundreds of journalists being invited to clear their desks. Falling circulation and higher production costs are making matters worse whilst increasing numbers of readers save time and money by reading their favourite newspaper online.
Very little news content today is gathered by reporters; most of what we read is downloaded free from court and local authority reports. Much is editorial-advertising. Why pay a journalist when you can charge an advertiser? Another threat to traditional reporting is posed by citizen journalists; freelances who offer their services in return for lead gathering opportunities.
Few doubt the superiority of online newspapers compared to hard copy. The online edition of the Daily Mail carries so much information and advertising; a builder’s labourer couldn’t hope to carry it in a wheelbarrow if it went to print. It is not the Internet that threatens journalists’ careers; it is the nature of the change. They too are learning to adapt.
THE INTERNET NEWS REVOLUTION
News organisations are still profitable but their proprietors have seen the writing on the wall. As High Street retailers morph into Internet shopping the newspaper industry knows that street vendor and newsagent distributed newspapers, subsidised by online profits, will follow Victorian hat-pins into relative obscurity. The dilemma facing the industry is how best to profit by charging browsers who access their online editions.
Print and distribution costs are crippling news print editions; costs for online copy are comparatively low. They do not have a space problem and deadlines are not an issue. In a click-driven competitive market online news media increasingly rely on challenging and investigative journalists, columnists and event analysts.
The trick is to prevent their readership migrating to free online editions if they do begin to charge for access. Under the radar discussions are already taking place. Heading the agenda is the quest to discover the most practical means of getting readers to pay for their PC screen content without losing them.
News magnate Rupert Murdoch already charges a subscription to access the Wall Street Journal’s insider information copy. He says: “People reading news for free on the web; that’s got to change.”
This week it is announced that the tycoon has won a concession from Google to limit access to free news reports. It is called slamming the stable door – before the horse bolts.
Head of Associated Press, Tom Curley agrees: “The readers and viewers are going to have to pay more.” Others argue that viewers will simple not pay. The truth is no one knows as no one has been there before.
SPANISH JOURNO SHOWS THE WAY
One media hopeful is Arcadi Espada, a Catalan journalist. Adamant that print journalism hasn’t a future his online Factual will be accessed by a 50€ annual subscription. With characteristic forthrightness Espada says: “A journalist’s work is not free; nothing in life is free. We have to re-invent the business.”
According to one poll 60 percent of newspaper proprietors are considering ways to charge for online access. A quarter is ready to take the plunge. Those who gather their daily news and information from online newspapers now stand at 30 percent. Here on the Costas, where print costs are high and distribution points problematic, the figure is expected to be higher.
HOT OFF THE PRESS
Of the Times 20 million plus users 500,000 are now dependent upon their online edition, and the gap will close. Plans are already in place to charge for the privilege of reading the Times online editions.
Freelance journalist, Sandy Collins, doesn’t see a problem or fear for his job. “Some of my best stories have been blue pencilled out by hard copy newspapers because with limited space available the advertiser is king. Online publishing is a no-brainer. Everyone wins.
“Newspaper proprietors’ costs are cut and their readership reaches a worldwide audience potential. As a journalist I now send my stuff to my editor knowing that if it isn’t published it wasn’t a space problem. If work is accepted according to merit then of course this must improve news quality.”
Collins online newspaper proprietor has an insatiable appetite for fast turnover of quality and originality. “He wants my take on breaking news now, not next week or next month. What I produce in the morning is being read by the public hours later. You don’t get much fresher than that. A recent report of mine had 7,000 readers within hours of my blotting it. Hard copy has gone the way of typewriters. Typewriters! What are typewriters?