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Are the print newspapers dead?
My head rules over my heart, when it comes to newsprint's survival. On this basis the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson is a sign of the times, you knew it was going to happen but couldn't imagine it *actually* happening. Talk of Ferguson's retirement was initiated in 2002, the same era as talk of the pending demise of the printed newspaper, as the e-book and electronic mail filtered into our lives as a permanent fixture. Two comparable entities in kinship with a blow-drier and chewing gum - Both blow off hot air and chew vigorously. Fat and gum their main diet.
Libraries have had to adapt to information technology trends at a price, either rejuvenate or exterminate, with nothing extra from the public purse. Newspapers in 2009 teetered on do or die methods also, newsgroups shrunk in size overnight - distribution numbers dwindled to save costs. Many freelancers were axed, leaving them destitute without any warning. If it was the car, finance, or insurance industries the guarantor would've been the dutiful taxpayer, but no, there was no bail-out - no corporation tax cut or did it really register with the general public that daily news may not be an option. Papers still appeared in the newsagents as if by magic and the vulgar dust was swept under the carpet. "Print has come a long way since Gutenberg's first print run you know." - I was told by a self-confessed die-hard 'paper-man' - whenever he said "copy" he'd quickly lick his index finger pre-empting a page turn; his specs embedded in his nostril creases. "Oh, I love the smell of a print-run..." he'd say and he'll wobble his cheeks as if reaching climax. I know people who'll work for free and in some cases they have, to keep their industry alive; especially the local papers. Overall, Britain's news-print industry is well oiled, loyal and they do portray old fashioned values that are caring and endearing: from having a strict rota in coffee-run, cold drinks-run, sandwich-run, and cream slice-runs - Not forgetting the late night print-runs - "Fee dedline were s'pose toby ester dee, now it iz nine am tomora morn n George ad some-mat on, so I elped out." Unsocial hour payments aren't policy, it is a lifestyle choice and acceptance; this is unheard of if you're a police officer.
Already, the newspaper industry has defied so-called social commentators' predictions that their death would be in early 2012. Morbidity chatter descended onto news-feeds as if no organisation was printing a newspaper again. Bewildering if you picked up a paper that morning proving that factual talk of newsprint's death was premature. Hardly valid newsworthy material - let alone trustworthy; it shockingly ain't - cough, cough. I naturally called my 'paper-man' and asked him; "are you dead.. yet?" There was a silence......... "Er, no I'm very much alive, dear boy, still producing copy..." a lick sound came through the ear-piece. I explained the notion that it was "plausible" in the land of blog. "Most are opting for news-feeds on their mobi-media feeders rather than getting it from the conventional newspaper. These highly informed device users believe newsprint is dead and has been for a while." Another silence...... and then a reply; "The problem with these sorts of tweets they believe anything that is written by twits." Of course the 'paper-man' was right. Only the real 'paper-men' can inform us of their death. It'll go like this: "If Your Reading This Message I (editor of paper) Can Confirm The Paper Has Passed On, At 9.53 PM Last Friday Morning." In the sub-heading it reads: "We like to thank the hard working staff for their loyal service and the couple of hundred loyal readers who bought the newsprint on a daily basis.The rest of you can choke on your apps and apples and get your news-links from a Painter and Decorator called Pete; see this twits and blobs at blah,blah,blah. Or alternatively 'Follow' Sir Alex Ferguson for football updates, sadly translation not included. Good luck."
I end up scratching my scalp in frustration when I read or here that newsprint defines democracy, without newsprint what will happen to democratic rights, the freedom of speech? Isn't 'tweets' proof for the twits to see them as a 140 character freedom of speech posts? And yes you can 'Follow' any dumb twit, or Sir to learn about the escalating tensions between Israel and Syria. I 'Follow' George Osborne for Britain's economic progress; "Britain is on the right track" I'm not sure what track Britain is following, but it's the "Right" one. Reassuring isn't it? By 'Following' Fry I may learn that Samuel Coleridge didn't really read everything that was ever written, excluding the last several hundred years of course. I prefer to read printed physical ink as depicted by Emily Dickinson who wrote: 'a pen has so many inflections and a voice but one.' True indeed - we may become one-dimensional without the written word - blame 'Skype'. Even after Leveson, I still seek newsprint, by those who allegedly know what they're writing about; I'm more likely to take their word for it than a twit of a blogger or a disingenuous news-feed. I fear we will lose out enormously after the death of newsprint and rely fully on t'internet. And this is my concern; all it takes is a sustained violent solar wind to wipe out satellite communications Wifi etc by offsetting Earth's magnetic field. These violent solar winds are imminent, it is not an 'IF' but 'WHEN' - history has informed us that violent solar winds occur every fifty or so years. When they do they will take the modern world back to the pre-satellite communication era. At this point we'll be digging up the old print press to reignite the newsprint industries, which is why they have to stay solvent. But in real terms their plight are already sealed by not endorsing a subscription fee online. In the meantime, I'm enjoying my addiction to fresh newsprint for a £1.20 fee.©1st2thebar 2013
One of my jobs is a cricket writer for the local paper in Northampton, the Chronicle & Echo, and last June we went to a weekly. The paper is owned by Johnston Press and was selling between 15,000 and 21,000 copies a day at 40p each to a town of around 250,000. JP said the paper was losing money in recession due falling sales in general and the loss of critical advertising going online and so sacked a load of journalists, moved to a £1 weekly and beefed up the website. Johnston Press has a reputation for closing down local papers, big titles to, the vulture capitalist of newspapers.
Northamptonian's seemed indifferent to the loss and so the weekly not selling well, clearing just 17,000 copies on a Thursday, less than the daily did on the same day, putting the paper in even greater jeopardy. Why would you buy a paper that comes out on a Thursday and the following Wednesday still laying their in Smiths like a gravestone? Most people just thumb through the jobs and leave it on the stand. My mum only gets it to see who she has outlived in the deaths. I bet your mum is the same. Local people are blasé about not buying the paper and always give me the same unthought out answer on why they don't bother now. 'Well, if the paper closes down we can just go online and read Northampton stuff there for free, is the answer I get. But who is going to gather that news if there are no local journalists being paid and writing that stuff? The Sun is not going to cover a canal boat tipping over on the River Nene or the streetlight debate (the council turned half of them off to save money). We gather the news, what a journalist job is. Already some of the Chron hacks are based at home and their cars used as their office.
There is something very pleasing about seeing your own work in a local paper, of course, and that community aspect its selling point, lots of writers unpaid and putting in a big effort to keep the papers going. But not so online, your content swallowed up by message boards and fan sites and absorbed into the mass of cyber opinion, the internet a democratic but discombobulating experience. You also realize that there are a lot better writers out there and so protect your own corner.
The problem now is can local web based news work in a profit model? Nationally it is struggling and only the Daily Mail has mastered the mass capture of online readers, mostly by putting eye catching celeb pictures and stories all the way down the right hand side of the continuous breaking news front page, bikinis and cellulite a real winner with both male and female readers. Six million people a day end up there through some hyperlink or another. I can't see the Chronicle & Echo doing that, the sash slipping at the Miss Northampton pageant as racy as we get. News International started charging online but nowhere enough money gushing in behind that pay wall to turn a profit. Neither printed or online news will make money, it seems.
People will go online for breaking stories and the immediacy of but not so much the brand they get it from and so mostly a free content newsstand in operation, the problem. We don't want to pay for stuff anymore we can get free online, the music and film industry hit the worse, Amazons low cost retail model destroying the high street. Ok, it's cool to have a kindle but would you really burn up your portable internet usage or risk being robbed waving it around so to read the Sun online?
However you consume news the printed press is on the way out and we will certainly see local and national papers merge and the end of the national Sunday editions as a paper outright. The printed press as we know it just can't survive with yesterday's news. There are only so many rich oligarchs and businessmen prepared to subsidize printed newspapers, The NY Times losing an eye watering forty million dollars last year.
The internet, of course, allows everyone to have an opinion and so fact and fiction hard to decipher, why journalists were invented. But can we trust the professional's opinion? National newspaper owners tend to aligned themselves to political parties and so there to back the party, needing cash some home so cross the line to make money by warping fact with conjecture to feed the lust for tabloid news, the recent Levesson enquiry laying it all out in eye opening detail. We say we don't like the gutter press but we love to know other peoples business. There's a human need to pull people down to our level to make ourselves feel better. Nothing more satisfying to a woman to see a sexy female celebrity snapped looking, grey, old, overweight or with cellulite.
The internet allows for rumor and conjecture to gather steam, and in some case forces the journalists to pull their finger out and be more subjective on stories they fear or can't touch, like with all these celebrity sex offenders, people clearly protected by the press and establishment in the bad old days. Once the name is out there other victims have the confidence to back up the original abuse claims, although some maybe chasing government compensation payments, as we will see over the coming months as hundreds of these cases pop up, big name musicians next up. We also have conspiracy websites like Info Wars undermining the printed press, publicly naming online every Muslim at the Boston Marathon as a suspect and calling every white person with a backpack and a walkie-talkie black ops team laving the bombs, absurd and damaging stuff. These websites rarely apologize when they get it wrong, which they often do. But they make money from advertising and a real worry as it spreads to reputable news sites and normal people begin to believe banter and gossip over diligent journalism. The internet maybe the Wild West to some and bypassing libel laws and normal channels but I love it because of that complete emancipation that makes you decide the truth.