Newspapers may be on the way out

Paul Cheal, 2 November 2015

As a trained journalist, practicing PR professional and casual lecturer on Communications at UTS, I have a strong interest in navigating the fast changing media landscape.

Ross Gittins, whom I have followed avidly since high school days, is one journalist who has been vocal, in recent months, about his views on the changing mediascape and the future of journalism.

Recently, at the new news conference organised by the Centre for Advancing Journalism, Gittins alarmingly said: “I don’t doubt that newspapers’ days are numbered. That’s likely both because of the continuing shift of advertising to online and because most of the younger generation favours screen-based information and simply doesn’t read newspapers.” How long until newspapers stop publishing he is unsure. But “probably sooner than 10” years was his prediction.

That may surprise, and even perhaps delight, many.

However, the question for the traditional (legacy) media publishers is: how do they pay for the quality journalism we have come to expect – and in fact, demand?

In September Crikey reported research from Essential Polling finding that seven in 10 Australians aged over 18 have no intention of paying for online news.

So, few and fewer Australians are reading hard copy newspapers, but the majority do not want to pay for that same news online.

In its battle for online readers, Fairfax has taken a ‘digital first’ approach to reporting, hoping that by breaking news online it will attract enough eyeballs (and subscribers). And while the SMH/Age has been able to build up to 130,000 subscribers over the past two years, the “soft paywall” means readers can access several articles a month for free, after which they can choose to pay, or as many savvy readers know, simply clear their browser history and start the ‘free’ count again.

The change is happening fast for everyone – including consumers.

As Gittins told New News delegates, “the digital delivery of news is so new that outlets are still experimenting with different ways of presenting it and users are changing their behaviour in response to developments in technology.” As an example Gittins notes “a declining proportion of clicks (to Fairfax websites) is from people coming direct to our website, with more coming via referral from social media such Facebook and search engines such as Google.”

Earlier this year, Honner Media rebranded to Honner. The reason? What we do today is broader than simply traditional media relations. Client, internal and member communications; issues and crisis management; strategy and planning; digital and social media; and content marketing – we offer a breadth of communication advice and services to clients.

As the reader and viewership habits have changed, so too we’ve needed to upskill and broaden our capabilities and offer. However, media remains a key stakeholder and delivering earned media outcomes still central to the practice of PR.

The future of a robust and competitive media landscape that fulfils, as Gittins refers to it, its “higher purpose”, is “a matter of great importance for the community, not just to those who make their living from it.”

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