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Is today’s newspaper tomorrow’s fish and chip paper?

Roger Parry said that, “Old media formats have suffered disruption, but are adapting to the changed conditions.”Newspapers, having existed conceptually since the times of Ancient Romans, when Julius Caesar had daily information carved on stone for public viewing, are perhaps the oldest form of media, and have always been known as a reliable source of the ‘truth,’ keeping its readers up-to-date with what matters to them. Only in the last few decades have newspapers been forced to question their validity and certainty in the media industry, due to the explosion of the internet onto the scene, with its unparalleled speed of conveying free of charge information.

A popular saying goes that today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chip paper. But in today’s world, where people attain news from a wide range of sources like blogs, online news sites, social media or email, the question must be raised; is today’s printed news already suitable for wrapping tonight’s fish and chips? After all, why would anyone pay money for something that could be out of date by the time it goes to print? Paul Gillin, founder of ‘Newspaper Death Watch’ online newspaper, explains this preference for reading news online, saying, “The high fixed cost of print publishing makes the major metro newspaper business model unsustainable in a world that increasingly want information to be free.”

In his book Future Shock, written in 1970, where he presciently predicts the technological frenzy of contemporary living, Alvin Toffler claims that in our heads we carry a mental model of the world, which is a subjective representation of external reality, and shaped by the imagery we receive from the mass media such as TV, the internet and newspaper articles. According to Toffler, we’re increasing the rate at which we have to form and forget our images of reality (what is true and not), and mass media is adapting to keep citizens of the world up to date with these accelerated changes.

So where does print media fit into this high transience society? Are it’s once daily publications not rendered old-fashioned, due to the need for ever-changing updates, and quicker options available like the internet? Well, I would argue – no. Although it is cannot update its information as quickly as the internet can, a newspaper’s most integral positive attribute is the quality and accuracy of the stories it tells. If we ignore, for the sake of this argument, tabloids, established newspapers are a reliable constant in this rapidly evolving society, and many have been around for hundreds of years. The New Zealand Herald is one such paper, having recently celebrated its 150th birthday and has built a self-proclaimed ‘legacy of trust and credibility’ with their readers. The main aim of newspapers is, of course, to educate. People want to know what is going on in the world around them, and they need to be able to trust that the information they are reading will not give them an incorrect updated ‘model of reality.’ Newspapers have reputations to uphold – if there is one scandal of fabricated stories, such as of ‘The New York Times’ where journalist Jayson Blair was found to have fabricated and plagiarised many stories, irreparable damage could be done to reader loyalty and confidence in the newspaper.

Although the internet allows us to get news instantaneously, the speed of it means that the web often isn’t careful enough in ensuring their stories are authentic or accurate. An example is the Boston Bombings case, where reports of an arrest published by CNN and other media were firmly denied by the FBI. “We have not officially named anyone and we don’t know where they’re getting that information,” an FBI spokeswoman told HuffPost.

Newspapers must take the time, verify sources and enlist expert opinions, resulting in a guarantee of truth. This is a significant point of difference, and strong attracting factor for people who prefer to get their news from a well-known paper –online or in print. Contrastively, a website’s quality is never guaranteed. It is highly possible to copy off someone else’s blog or site, believing what they say to be true, and unintentionally spreading rumours or lies. Again, the Boston Bombings case is an example of this, where an image of a little girl was shared more than 11,000 times on Facebook with a totally fictitious caption telling how the little girl ‘died today.’ This hoax spread to twitter, tumblr and other social media sites was a lesson on the unreliability of blogs in particular, who have no one holding them accountable for what they write. Anyone can have a blog, start a website or make a status on Facebook, effectively allowing anyone to be a ‘journalist’.

Large corporations such as ‘Fairfax’ have recently disregarded fact-checking, and according to the Day Editor of the Otago Daily Times, have ‘farmed out their subeditors.’ Fairfax has turned to outsourcing subeditors, who have no relationship to the writers, as well as no knowledge of the story they are checking. While it’s supposedly cheaper for newspapers to do this, it’s raised questions about whether this system is really ideal. “As the media evolves, the most important thing news organisations have going for them is the quality of their product,” says Journalists’ Media Alliance union federal secretary Chris Warren. “Content quality gives credibility, which gives influence, which increases readership and advertising revenue, which leads to a stronger bottom line.”

According to sparknotes.com, Americans in particular surf the sites of traditional media outlets like NBC and CNN, but are also increasingly turning to unique online news sources, like weblogs. Websites can provide text, audio and video information, which is much more stimulating than a newspaper, as it targets all the senses, while the former can only provide text information. The web also gives people the option to choose the news they receive via personalised web portals, newsgroups and podcasts. This potentially can lead to the ‘selective exposure theory’ coming into play, referring to individuals’ tendencies to favour information that reinforces pre-existing views, while avoiding contradictory information. If people no longer read the newspaper which is all-encompassing of issues such as Business, Sport and Politics etc, they can choose only what interests them. If selective exposure theory is to be believed, most people don’t want to read hear or read about things they aren’t interested in, and likewise don’t want to be told they are wrong, and so will seek out information to back up their views. Fox News is an example of a news channel with a right-wing slant. By hiring journalists who hold this political view, it becomes political propaganda for people who support right-wing politics, reinforcing rather than challenging pre-existing ideology.

The internet’s greatest advantage over traditional print media – its wide audience and accessibility, is also its greatest disadvantage. Unlike the web, newspapers know what their specific reader base wants. Websites such as stuff.com and Fairfax are internationally owned, but the NZ Herald supplies a source of knowledge on the issues that affect a particular society. Quite contrarily to the commonly held view that newspapers are on the decline, the NZ Herald boasts an increase of 29,000 readers since the last survey in March, to 846,000 in May 2013 now using Herald content in print or online. The CEO of APN NZ Media, Martin Simons, which publishes the Herald, claimed the readership growth was a ‘massive success for us’ and highlights the ‘relevance of newspapers within an ever-changing media environment.’

A likely contributing factor to the Herald’s rising number of readers is its online presence. The ‘New Zealand Herald Android App’ was released in 2011, allowing readers to take the herald wherever they go. The online monthly audience of the New Zealand Herald rose 32 percent this year, and on the herald mobile platforms it was up by 69 percent. The online news service attracts over 2.1 million users per month, and in March 2013, ‘nzherald.co.nz’ won an award for the country’s best news site. They even have a presence on Facebook as a ‘social reader’ now, which allows Facebook users to view NZ herald content based on personal interests. “The changing digital landscape requires an innovative approach to content, and we must be continually evolving to meet the digital demand,” says Spencer Bailey, general manager at APN Digital. Indeed many newspapers have moved online and created apps, as a strong internet presence is vital in maintaining the interest of society.

Not all newspapers have been so successful, however, as many newspapers including ‘The Kentucky Post’ and ‘Rocky Mountain News’ recently dying out as a result of falling readership. The ‘Seattle Post-Intelligence’ which has run for 149 years was forced to stop printing their paper, and moved to being only online, due to lack of sales. Even this well established paper was not able to maintain a loyal readership base by continuing down the same path, proving that growth within a media industry is necessary to appeal to coming generations, who have come to expect an online option for everything nowadays.

Although the old media format of newspapers has been disrupted, and some including Rocky Mountain News, San Juan Star and Kentucky Post have died out as a result, many including ‘The New York Times’ and ‘NZ Herald’ Newspapers have moved with the world. The New Zealand Herald’s readers numbers, at least are on the rise with the addition of online options. With change comes opportunity, and APN NZ’s chief executive Marin Simons, says the company NZ Herald is well-placed to adapt and prosper. On the possibility of the online herald leading to a pay wall, he said; “I believe it’s an inevitability for society that consumers will have to pay for content.” A large number of consumers pay for printed news, so for him it’s a fairly simple outcome: if publishers aren’t making enough money to pay their journalists, it will either result in a decline in the profession of journalism (which some say has already happened), or a need to find another way.

Backing up the possibility of this new development in the future of newspapers, is the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism study which revealed that for every dollar gained in new digital revenue, print revenue was losing seven dollars. Robert Murdoch, who owns three national papers in the UK said that while all papers were under ‘extreme pressure’ from the internet, the challenge was turn the internet into an ‘opportunity.’ Sun editor David Dinsmore said that The Times currently has 140,000 paying digital subscribers and 395,000 print buyers, making for a total of 435,000 paying monthly subscribers, proving that a pay wall is a viable option for newspapers in the future. Even if print newspapers do eventually die out, if they can make a smooth transition to more online based newspapers and perhaps introduce online subscriptions, the newspaper and journalism industry will thrive well into the future.

Interestingly, although the readership of printed papers has been declining in developed OECD countries, in chief developing nations such as Brazil and India circulation is increasing. Explaining this is the rising literacy, increasing populations and literacy of these nations. However many aren’t at the financial level to enjoy consistent internet access or tablet computers. One last intriguing thing to note is the significant online presence of TV stations such as TVNZ and 3 news. These websites have articles alongside videos, blurring the lines between TV, Newspaper and web-based journalism. The Herald online also has video content accompanying the pieces of writing on its site. With all these online newsrooms competing to get the news out fastest, perhaps the question is if well produced news, rather than newspapers have a future.        

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About greentea2177

Studying Politics and Writing Studies in Auckland, NZ. Any feedback - harsh or kind regarding my writing is appreciated. I'm not interested in what you have to say about me personally, or my views.

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