There was an interesting synopsis of Michael Gawenda’s A.N. Smith Lecture in Journalism in the Sydney Morning Herald by about “the need for a new model for newspapers in the digital age” and the butchering of “profitable newspapers”. In this view, recent cuts to editorial staff at Fairfax are the result of “a failure of imagination and commitment, a result of a lack of experience and knowledge and love of newspapers” precipitated by a dramatic fall in advertising revenue.
However, the simple fact is journalism has never been able to stand alone as a revenue generator – it has always been subsidised by advertising revenue. This means that readers have rarely been willing to fork out cold hard cash to cover the real cost of creating news.
Now that there are so many other online opportunities for advertisers to reach consumers there is less need to advertise in traditional media (especially print). Thus we are seeing a shift to digital media channels for advertising. And, with the economic downturn, marketers will be trying to stretch their advertising dollars even further making digital a more likely choice.
Even rusted on newspaper junkies like me are starting to read the news online (except on weekends when I sit down with the SMH, Oz, FinRev and a pot of coffee). This just reinforces the advertising revenue drop and the inevitable need to reduce costs for the print version. Also the drive for cost reduction means we are likely to see more social media & user generated content featuring on the digital news sites, together with raw feeds unedited from news sources such as Reuters.
In Gawenda’s view newspapers “…need to build on their strengths: Forget big headlines and huge and often meaningless graphics. Instead, arresting photography, great illustrations and wonderful editorial cartoons. And stories, well-written and compelling stories, well-edited and with smart and entertaining headlines, if possible, without lousy puns.” I suspect that this is the fond hope of someone who loves the traditional newspaper (in spite of the costs associated with creation of this content) and who remains uncomfortable with new media.