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Social media presssures newspapers

Written by Georgia Kerr-Reeve
Newspapers are converting to online formats and trialling new business models in a bid to acquire revenue

Newspapers, such as the Sydney Morning Herald, are converting to online formats and trialling new business models in a bid to acquire revenue

Social media has undoubtedly solidified its position as a pivotal medium within the communications landscape of the future. What was once a question of ‘if’ advancing technologies would bring about the demise of traditional newspapers is now a question of ‘when’.The University of Queensland’s social media expert Nicholas Carah envisions the demise of mass mainstream print media within the next ten years.

“Newspapers with a predominantly older audience who will read newspapers until the day they die will be around for a while longer,” he said.

But as that day inevitably draws closer, newspapers are forced to reconsider their position within the news media ecology.

Google News’ creator Krishna Bharat believes publications will become more focused and specialized with news organisations being known for a particular subject or specialism.

Mr Carah agrees. “I don’t think print media itself is going to disappear, I think you’re going to get lots of niche publications,” he said.

On the back of thousands of journalist job cuts and death of several newspapers, traditional media outlets are reconsidering their business models and the future of the newspaper itself.

In Australia, circulations have decreased by 3 per cent over as many years; in New Zealand the decline is 13 per cent, and 21 per cent in the UK.

Despite plummeting revenues and circulations throughout the developed world, most newspapers have more readers now than ever before.

Print circulation and readership are declining because readers are turning to online publications for content.

Nielsen Online records The Sydney Morning Herald as having 3 million monthly unique users as of October last year.

Newspapers are today faced with the problem of not how to gain readers but how to gain profit. Traditionally dividing their advertising into classifieds and display, newspapers are being replaced with more compelling online vehicles for advertising.

In the United States from 2005 to 2009 newspapers’ online advertising revenue grew by $716 million, but print advertising lost $22.6 billion.

The Courier-Mail’s Chris Jones believes there is not one specific solution to the newspaper paradox.

“Newspapers are currently experimenting with different business models,” Mr Jones said. “The main questions are: Will enough readers pay enough money to view online news to offset the loss of print revenue? And what is the best paywall model?”

Brisbane Times’ journalist Katherine Feeney disclosed that her company had adopted a digital-first structure that has thus far proved successful.

Meanwhile, in a speech to the Advanced Centre of Journalism Malcolm Turnbull recently stated that what we should be analysing and discussing is the future and the viability of journalism itself rather than whether there will be newspapers left.

“Can the great newspapers which have formed the foundation of newsgathering, reporting and analysis be replaced by a sea of blogs and tweets,” he said?

“Many people have argued that the internet offers the chance for citizen journalism – whether it is small news websites, personal blogs or twitterstreams. There is no doubt that wireless broadband and smart phones have revolutionised newsgathering.”

Dr Nicholas Carah suggests that while there have been several celebratory accounts of citizen journalism, and it was originally thought this could destroy mainstream content production, to make engaging journalism you need a range of skills and information that ordinary people can’t access.

“Mainstream organisations reach out for user-generated content in conjunction with their traditional sourcing and production of stories, and you could say when it’s done really well it’s changed journalism in a good way, it’s opened up another thread to the narratives journalism engages with,” he said.

The Guardian has been experimenting with crowd sourcing by giving audiences access to daily news lists online and submit their ideas on each story.

Trialing what has been termed ‘open-journalism’, The Guardian attempts to engage readers in what is usually a newspaper’s biggest secret: tomorrow’s headlines.

The paper encourages readers to contact reporters and editors via Twitter to help news desks with ideas and clues on how to pursue stories.

Anxiety surrounding the future of investigative journalism is inevitable with the rise of social media and the facilitation of user generated content.

“I think that the answer is that it’s never really been profitable in its own right, it still isn’t, it’s always survived because big media proprietors are happy to fund it as a patron of it,” Mr Carah said.

“And I think what we’re going to find that powerful people still think it matters so people will figure out ways to make it work,” he said.

Crikey’s quality journalism project will quiz different respected Australian journalists, editors and producers to find out what great journalism means to them and where they go to get it.

A master list of the best sources for quality journalism in Australia will be created.

With thousands enrolled in Journalism and Communication courses, graduates are faced with the dilemma of securing a job in an industry where newsrooms are shrinking and newspaper journalists are few and far between.

“At times like this, when the establishment is shaken to its foundations, the young and the enterprising have the chance to take what is enduring – objectivity, accuracy, fearless independence – and build new platforms from which to launch their journalism,” Mr Turnbull said.

The question now, then, is how are institutions preparing future professional communicators for the changing journalistic landscape of today?

Image: PgHrOaTcOe on Flickr

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