News organisations are in a terrible place right now. Newspapers are dying and yet news on tablets, PCs and mobile are generating nowhere near the revenue hoped for. Even worse, it’s unlikely that these new digital platforms will ever deliver the types of revenues enjoyed during the heyday of newsprint. Readers just aren’t prepared to pay for news.
What’s to be done?
I’m not sure there is a right answer to this question. Certainly there is no single path to success and each option has its risks. The only thing that is clear is that doing nothing is not an option.
No matter what the risks involved in adopting a new strategy, the news industry is at the point where simply doing the same thing as last year is even riskier.
Newspaper circulations are dwindling, revenues are down, journalists are being retrenched. The easy way out is to blame the global economic recession. The hard way is to face reality. Things are not going to get better. Blaming external conditions does not serve journalism well. Newspaper owners need to look deep inside their businesses and decide what works, what doesn’t, and what’s worth fighting for.
Part of that future may well be a printed newspaper, one that is carefully positioned and with a clear and obvious value for readers. The other part will likely be an array of digital products, each with their own unique appeal, to extend the news brand (and service) into brave new territories.
I don’t think news organisations have much option but to embrace digital formats such as tablet PCs, mobile phones and the web. They may not make financial sense right now but not doing so risks assigning the organisation to obscurity.
The one-size-fits-all approach to news is broken beyond repair. Readers want news in the way that bests suits them. Some of those might want a newspaper but, increasingly I suspect, many of them don’t. There are only two options: offer news in a format readers want or wave goodbye to them. Either is valid but having both is not an option.
Of course the bean counters will complain that there is no financial security in this new digital world. And they’d be right. But there is even less security (in the long run) in monolithic newspapers. The future (and the revenue) lies in innovative mixes of new and old products that do what journalism has always done: serve readers.
Printed newspapers certainly have a future. But sometimes the story is better told, or better served, on a digital platform. At other times print is the better choice. It’s not a failing of either platform but an opportunity. With digital and print in harmony journalists have new and wonderful opportunities to tell stories in better, deeper and richer ways. That’s a good thing.
Journalism is about telling stories, not just about printing papers.