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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 and product reviews. 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 average daily newspaper carries so much information and advertising; a builder’s labourer could not 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 typewriters into 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. Online newspapers do not have a space problem and deadlines are not an issue. The news is almost immediate and rolled out 24/7. However, in a click-driven competitive market online news media increasingly rely on challenging and investigative journalists, columnists and event analysts.
If a charge is imposed the trick will be to prevent each newspaper’s readership migrating to free online editions. 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.”
Recently it was 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.
A Spanish Journalist Shows the Way
One online media hopeful is Arcadi Espada, a Catalan journalist. He is certain that print journalism does not have a future. His online Factual will be accessed by a 50EUR 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 of them are ready to take the plunge. Those who gather their daily news and information from online newspapers now stand at 30 percent.
Hot off the Press
Of the UK Times and Sunday Times 20 million plus users, 500,000 are now dependent upon their online edition and the gap will close further. 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.”
He adds: “Newspaper proprietors’ costs are cut and their readership reaches a worldwide audience potential. As a journalist I now send my stuff to my online editors, knowing that if it is not published, it was not a space problem. If work is accepted according to merit then of course this must improve news quality. It must also improve opportunities for writers.”
Collins says his 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? ©