The future of print

Recent talk over on Slugger got me thinking about the future of newspapers in Ireland. It is a long argued point that ever since the advent and growth of the internet traditional media, particularly print, was destined to die out.
This argument isn’t confined to the last decade, though. With the creation of every new medium it is assumed that space must be made and the older incarnation will inevitably make way for the new. With radio many felt that print was past its peak. With the widespread adoption of television radio, cinema and newspapers were all given rather premature late rites. Now, with the internet it seems as though the same fears have been dug up. So is print due to die out? Well it will die just as much as radio will from podcasting, or television will from video streams.
Firstly, people will never grow tired of newspapers. They’ve managed to prove their worth in the face of 24 hour rolling news television for over a decade now and Dublin alone has seen a new publication appear recently, and the mutation of another existing paper into a new entity. On top of that Ireland will be getting its own Irish Daily Mail soon, which would suggest that the market still exists for growth. Newspapers are now a place to get the whole story and not just snippets that Sky News throws at you as they find them. They’re also a place for comment, opinion and investigation, something that the fast pace of TV, radio and online news doesn’t have time or need for. Even as laptops and PDA’s grow in popularity, and 3G phones and wifi networks offer more and more opportunity for people to keep up to date on the go it still fails to offer a genuine alternative to the humble paper. I personally hate reading for any length of time on a computer screen, and would find it even harder if that screen was only a few inches wide and long.
One thing that will ensure the survival of the newspaper is this point; think of all the news websites you visit in a day. How many of those don’t charge you to read the content? A lot I’d assume. Now, how many of them are not tied directly to an existing newspaper, radio station or TV channel? Not many. If there are any left, look into the background of them. Breakingnews.ie would be an example of a free website that isn’t directly linked to another outlet, but even the smallest amount of searching will show that it is in fact the news source for the Irish Examiner website and is owned by Thomas Crosby Media; which holds the Sunday Business Post as well as many regional newspapers in its stable.
My point is that if The Irish Times, The Irish Independent and The Irish Examiner were all to close down tomorrow, would you expect to still get news from their respective websites, even Ireland.com which charges a fee?
There is no denying that newspapers in Ireland and across the world need to adapt for the future, and that doesn’t involve free DVD’s or CD’s. It may mean taking a new direction in editorial policy; more investigation or comment, more ads and fewer journalists. Perhaps regional and local newspapers will grow in popularity, just like local radio has begun to chip away at national listenership. Or perhaps the new freesheets are the first step in something that will eventually dominate print, free and snappy news for people on the go.
As for citizen journalism and blogging, this isn’t really a threat to newspapers; if anything it’s of benefit. Blogging is likely to be the new breeding ground for reporters and commentators; it could be because a newspaper hires a blogger they like or because a blogger gets a post of theirs published or even because they enjoy blogging so much they figure they could make a career from it.
No one can claim it’s going to be an easy ride for print media, but it’s certainly not going to be its last stand either. It is possible that newspapers as we know them will become a thing of the past, but the industry by its very nature is always and must always be evolving. Fletcher is right in taking a positive approach and seeing this an an chance to grow rather than choke and it’s something that should be realised across the industry.

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