This is my second post (Part One) in an effort to offer my views on why I think newspapers will die.
For nearly a decade now editorial departments in newspapers have been trying to figure out how to adapt to the Internet. In some ways the Internet has helped newspapers by breeding some life into their editorial departments - blogs and social media have created a number of opportunities - but it has also helped shine the light on some weaknesses. Whether they like it or not, newspapers must publish online and with that comes a myriad of issues. What follows is a look at a few of them.
1 - Timeliness
The issue of competing on timeliness is not new to newspapers. Radio and television have both been competing on timeliness for years - it’s always been the case that radio could break a news story before tomorrow’s paper arrives. The key is that you have to be listening to the radio when the story is aired. Whereas the newspaper had the advantage of being consumed at your leisure, the broadcast media has the advantage of speed. The Internet brings these together, delivering the story fast and making available 24/7.
None of this is news to anyone in the online media space, but for the newspaper industry it’s a huge shift in how they work. For decades, if not centuries, they’ve worked to a daily deadline. With the Internet, every second is a deadline in order to be competitive. The issue of online publishing is a double edged sword. If newspapers don’t publish online early, they can’t compete. If they do, they compete with themselves by making tomorrow’s print story old news. Every day across North America these decisions are being made by publishers and editors. Because of this, breaking news will not remain the domain of the printed newspaper much longer.
- Is a newspaper really a newspaper if it no longer breaks the news?
2 - Efficiency
The Internet has significantly helped the efficiency of editorial departments, as it has helped many other businesses. The risk comes from the way the newspapers have to operate. From a liability perspective, newspapers are ticking time bombs - libel is a constant concern. In a rush to publish online, newspapers run a greater risk of publishing erroneous information. Because newspapers are held to a higher standard, the costs involved in online publishing are greater than those of non-traditional media. I don’t think this is necessarily a good thing, but it’s a reality.
- Can newspapers maintain their high standards and still compete online?
3 - Cost
Newsrooms across North America have been shrinking for over a decade now. As the cost cutting pressures continue, they’re being forced into doing more with less. This means centralization and removal of perceived duplication. Many of these measures can only be taken by the larger media conglomerates, creating even more pressure for mergers.
By cutting costs, they are being taken further away from what their readers want. Centralized bureaus producing national or regional content can’t be sufficiently local, nor can they speak to the reader in a tone that they’ve come to expect from their local newspaper. In many ways, it’s the cost cutting that’s reducing newspapers ability to be competitive.
- Can newspapers continue to reduce investment and still survive?
Stay tuned for the for more posts of “Why I think newspapers will die.”:
Part Three - Classified Advertising
Part Four – Display Advertising
Part Five – Distribution
Part Six – The Reader
By Jose Leal