The end of the property boom means that the property supplement in my Sunday newspaper is now a mere 8 pages as compared to the dizzying 40 pages of just a few short months ago. Since I set up my Twitter account and my Google news alerts I now know what will be on the 6 o’clock news often before the newsreaders themselves have their script. My RSS reader feeds me newly unearthed scandals before PrimeTime has a chance to send the researchers out. Are we coming to the end of journalism as we know it?
Journalist, Jennifer O’Connell asks this question in a comment piece in one of today’s papers. Her concern is that she might not have a job in the next few years as the face of journalism seems destined to change forever and the fate of the mighty newspaper seems to be written on the wall for all to see. The Internet, and more particularly social media tools such as YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and blogging, all dilute the influence of traditional journalism as the news powerhouses.
Jennifer points out that “newspapers are dying” since “readers – younger readers especially – don’t want to pay for yesterday’s or last week’s news any more, and advertisers won’t follow where readers have stopped going.” There is much truth here as today consumers are spending over three times as much time online than they do reading newspapers and for the first time online advertising spend in the UK has reached 19.8%, surpassing spend on advertising in both newspapers and magazines combined.
I share Jennifer’s lament at the prospect of the disappearance of my Sunday newspaper. I enjoy the ritual of the Sunday morning trip to the newsagent where all the other blokes (invariably) in the neighbourhood are picking out their favourite reads. Then off home, and with a pastry and a decent mug of coffee begin a treasured half hour or so paging through the Sunday’s finest.
However, even I’m finding that this routine is changing. Depending on how hectic the Sunday schedule is, I might find myself going online to catch the headlines before heading out for the day. I was disappointed recently to see that one of the Irish newspapers decided not to release their online edition until 6pm on a Sunday evening. This is a very clear push back against their customers who are transitioning from print to online. Ultimately this is futile as there are others, like Bernie, who will give us the Sunday papers online, even if the publishers won’t.
Jennifer O’Connell suggests an alternative approach for traditional print media. She highlights that newspapers can “still do some things better than the shiniest video iPod. Opinion and analysis, for one thing. Design for another. Photopgraphy. Crosswords. Special commemorative editions. Important world events. Local news. Niche news. Letters pages. Reliable, interesting, thought-provoking content. A respite from all that distracting technology”. Now, while I’d be happy to argue with Jennifer that for many of those things social media is far more useful, I’ll certainly not argue against the requirement for good journalism.
Journalism will not die so long as journalists embrace the new technologies that their audiences are using. Most bloggers are offering opinion and analysis and are not trying to be journalists. We respect journalists and their role in society. However if they are not doing (as Jennifer puts it) “the things we haven’t been so good at doing: immediacy, innovation, interaction and…. the internet” they will simply be sidelined. I was delighted to see national broadcaster RTÉ this week bring prominent Irish bloggers Damien, Darragh, Suzy, Alan, John and Tommy in to meet staff in their news and current affairs departments. While this initiative certainly helped the bloggers understand a little more about how traditional news is compiled, I’m sure there was as much to be gained by the broadcaster in understanding this new breed of opinion shapers.
Our media consumption behaviours are going in only one direction. Time will tell how complete the transition will be and how many journalists will be joining us on the journey.