Sunday, August 27, 2006

Do newspapers have a future?

Well, do they? And does journalism? These are questions that were raised last week in The Economist’s cover story and commented on by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and Independent editor Simon Kelner on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The article asks whether the demand for newspapers will disappear as more of us turn to the Internet for our news. Much of the Radio 4 discussion focuses on the market and money – whether the impact of the fall of readership and advertisers and the costs of investing in new technology will see the demise of newsprint. Both editors, from their perspectives in the quality sector, don’t believe this will happen in the foreseeable future but comment that newspapers will have to adapt to survive the digital age.

The impact on journalism itself is something else that The Economist raises. As readership declines, economies are made in the newsroom itself:
In order to cut costs, (newspapers) are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people's daily lives than international affairs and politics are.

Lifestyle, consumer-orientated and celebrity ‘journalism’ costs considerably less than journalism that investigates, travels the globe and holds politicians and governments to account. There is a growing number of ‘news’ sources – PR and promotions people – who are only too happy to make life easier for the journalist and cheaper for the newspaper in a professional environment driven by market pressures.

As a consequence, news media are increasingly dependent on PR, a situation that many commentators have seen as a threat to the status of journalism itself. The Economist continues:
Journalism schools and think-tanks, especially in America, are worried about the effect of a crumbling Fourth Estate. Are today's news organisations “up to the task of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends?” asked a recent report about newspapers from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The article reminds us that democracy has survived television and points to positive influences of the Internet – news aggregation websites, online versions of specific newspapers (especially The Guardian) and the ‘new force of “citizen” journalists and bloggers … itching to hold politicians to account.’

Last year, one of the most popular topics selected by my first-year journalism students for a research assignment was the impact of the Internet on news reporting. It’s encouraging to see that journalists of the future are taking such an active interest in the future of journalism.

Filed under:
online news   new media   Guardian    Independent   Economist   Today programme   
PR sources   lifestyle journalism   Fourth Estate   journalism education

1 comment:

Pete Wilby said...

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