Posts Tagged ‘saving newspapers’

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The Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, recently gave a speech to the Melbourne Press Club in which he outlined his visions for ‘Aunty’ in the years to come.

There were anumber of interesting takes on major themes in journalism – the need to keep investigative journalism strong, using social-networks for promotional causes (‘reaching audiences’ etc), and the tabloidisation of trusted brands in the online space.

“I wonder sometimes if the instant metrics generated in the online world are increasing the temptation to be tabloid in choosing news, pictures and headlines – to draw the eyeballs and the click-through – just as a tabloid designs page one to drive response from the newsstand”, Scott said.

Coming from several years back in the UK, it’s fair to say that the leading broadsheets on the left and right, The Guardian and The Telegraph, have done reasonably well in avoiding this dumbing down. I carried out a dissertation for a masters around 18 months ago, and found despite the fact articles about popstars and football rated very well indeed – usually at the top – online editors still resisted putting them in the most prominent positions, more often than not. Search engines, in-bound links and general curiosity brought people to them. Leaving aside tabloids proper, the same could not be said of ‘midrange’ papers, namely the Daily Mail, which pursue far more celebrity based ‘news’ online than it does in print – and does well in the ratings because of it.

“There is nothing wrong with tabloids”, Scott went on. “I hasten to add, nodding in the direction of journalistic colleagues from the Herald Sun. But in great newspaper markets – like New York and London, Melbourne and Sydney – the tabs and the broadsheets have operated side by side, offering different content to different segments of the market. They expressed themselves differently in many ways.

“In the online space, however, that distinction blurs – tabloids and broadsheets tend to behave the same way, as if the online audience’s primary need is to be entertained. The result is the kind of editorial thinking that means we get far more coverage – as has been noted – of Paris Hilton than Paris, France. More Angelina and Brad than Angola and Chad.”

There’s a lot in this, especially, at first glance, in Australia. You only have to look at the Sydney Morning Herald and the distinctions one can draw between the broadsheet and smh.com.au. The paper has fallen a long way with Fairfax’s financial issues arguably at the core, but as for the online offering, it’s getting harder to brand the smh.com.au website a ‘serious’ news site. Visit the site every day for a week, and judging by the homepage, it would near impossible not to call it a tabloid.

As for Australia’s public service broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, it will be an interesting challenge in the coming months and years to ensure the online offerings do not stray too far from what viewers and listeners honed on what can arguably called ‘broadsheet’ principles come to expect – the ABC and SBS do not create tabloid TV – even if online metrics are telling us to do something else.

After all, this is what state-funded journalism and ‘news’ is all about.

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Just a quick post to express my enthusiasm for a new three-parter on the beeb, from The Money Programme, on the growth of online media and online news, and what this means for newspapers.

Fronted by the always enthusiastic Janet Street-Porter, the first episode of Media Revolution gives a great rundown of some of the issues facing the dead-tree media, and correctly concludes (in my humble opinion) that the online media revolution will not kill newspapers, but simply kill the weak. Let’s see if The Independent, The Express, and even The Mirror are around in a few years.

Also of note is a trip to News International‘s new printing press, an ode to dead-tree media on a massive scale. Murdoch even pops up for a few comments, and as ever comes across as a man in love with the medium- even if seeing a stop to his aquisitions probably is in the interests of the fourth estate.

All in all, great TV – which UK users (and others capable of masking their IP address!) can catch on the iPlayer.

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Well, actually I don’t think so. The last time I bought a paper was when Obama won the election (a copy of The Grauniad and one of The Sun, clearly). But I see what Brian Till is saying in this major guilt trip.

What I find most interesting is the action he takes to relieve himself of some of this Google-based angst; subscribing to four newspapers. For such a forward-looking guy, it seems like a cork in the dam, or whatever the phrase is. Saving newspapers from online news will take more than that. Personally, rescuing news in general, and good journalism, is the more interesting fight.

Instead of looking to newspapers, I’m pretty sure we can look towards quality journalistic magazines as saviours. Sales of UK magazines such as The New Statesman, The Economist and The Spectator have all fared very well in recent years, depsite the downsurge in newspaper sales. They, of course, are also printed on paper. It seems having something in your hand is something people want to have – and these magazines are proof that just because something is also available in the form of online news, does not mean it cannot be sold in dead-tree format. Of course, the fine lines between news, comment and opinion may have something to do with it, but on the whole when a magazine has articles providing a) a wrap to the week’s news and b) a longer in depth look at an issue, then they may be that much more resilient.

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France is fascinating. Sarkozy won the last election comfortably against the sociliasts, but has now announced massive state-aid to prop up the newspaper industry.

Last week, he announced €600m for newspapers, including measures that will see a free one-year subscription to the newspaper of choice to every 18 year-old in the country. But will this sve the industry? Because, let’s face it, this looks to be about jobs and the economy – and not about investing in quality journalism. If the most popular newspaper in France is sports paper L’Equipe, what’s to suggest the kids in question don’t sign up on mass to read that particular publication?

There are some worried that this amounts to political interference – ‘he who giveth may taketh away’, says Jeff Jarvis. But this ignores the problem, in the same way that massive bail-outs of the car industry in the US (and, let’s face it, the banking industry in the US, here in the UK, and elsewhere) ignore the real problem – newspaper circulations are not falling because ‘the youth’ aren’t interested in news, it’s because their news is consumed online. Just as teenagers don’t necessarrily want the same gas-guzzling ‘Chlesea tractors’ they did when oil-consumption and global warming weren’t such a front-page issue, neither do they want to wait for their news to be printed on dead trees.  Unions might have the best interests of their workers at heart, but the long term interests of France aren’t best-served by propping up an industry that’s never been particulalry popular anyway, compared to the circulation of papers in the UK, for example.

Included in the announcement are tax-breaks for those starting up online news websites and organisations. This, it seems, gets closer to the real issue. But why waste paper on providing free papers to teenagers? They can get their news online if they want it. Sarko and other leaders would be better off investing in quality infrastructure with the kind of broadband that will serve their  national media’s interests – as well as their economies’ in general – for many more years to come.

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