Are we reading the last (w)rites of journalism?
“Journalism is in an existential crisis: revenue to news organisations has fallen off a cliff over the past two decades and no clear business model is emerging to sustain news in the digital era.”
The recent announcement by The Independent that it will no longer be available in print, as of March this year, did not necessarily come as much of a surprise. The fast pace of online news and technological advancement – through online news aggregators, news apps alerting users of breaking news throughout the day, social media allowing sharing of stories that are of interest within a demographic, and live-streaming technology to see first-hand what is occurring across the world in real time – has offered would-be newspaper advertisers a plethora of alternative platforms to which they can allocate advertising spend.
And so, printed newspapers have been consistently receiving less and less revenue from advertising, as well as from a decline in sales. The larger national titles would have, in years gone by, brought in hundreds of millions of pounds per year. Now, as revenues continue to decline, they are no longer able to fund the journalism to the same extent as revenues continue to decline. The solution isn’t as simple as just steaming ahead with an online news portal and expecting immediate success. Those titles that have been pro-active in investing in digital portals (whilst persevering with print simultaneously) have only seen revenues in the tens of millions of pounds from their digital efforts. So until there is a clearer way to earn income through publishing news online, many titles will continue to struggle on, publishing news in print, for as long as they can afford to. But as they look to reduce costs to live within their means, journalists and journalism continue to be invested in less and less – with grave implications.
Spotlight, the double Oscar-winning 2015 film based on the true story of the Boston Globe’s investigative team of the same name, provides an example of why it is so important that journalism is invested in, and allowed to thrive. The Spotlight team uncovered the scandal of child abuse within the local Catholic Archdiocese – resulting in a shake-up of the entire Catholic Church. The repercussions of the discovery are still being felt in 2016, as the Catholic Church and the media continue to investigate the extent of the scandal. Who is to say how different the world would be, had journalists not steadfastly pursued and uncovered the truth, in this and many other situations through history?
One of the co-founders of The Independent, Stephen Glover, highlighted concerns about the quality of journalism being affected by a move to digital publishing – that there was a ‘longer question’ about whether online-only papers could support the same number of journalists and do the ‘same sort of journalism’ as printed ones.
So is the tale of The Independent a one-off? We fear not, with many industry professionals claiming that respected titles such as the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph will follow suit in the next few years. Although, just as soon as we heard the news about The Independent, we learned about the launch of a new daily paper; the publisher of the Daily and Sunday Mirror – Trinity Mirror – has recently launched a new daily paper titled New Day. Proposed as an ‘optimistic’, politically neutral paper, and ‘bite-sized’ to suit readers who currently no longer buy a paper, we wonder whether, as the i paper is to The Independent, this title will be to the Daily Mirror. We don’t think it will reassure Stephen Glover over his concerns about the quality of journalism… but at least it’s an example of positive action being taken, experimenting with a new format to find a reliable way to deliver printed news in the ever-changing news environment.
We sincerely hope that, through whichever portal and platform, journalism does not have to endure the reading of its last rites, but that journalists continue to write, for the benefit of us all.