How does news publishing change when a newspaper sells fewer than 300,000 copies but its website attracts 31 million visitors? These shifts are forcing assumptions and practices to be rethought from first principles.
The internet is not simply allowing faster, wider distribution of material: digital technology is demanding transformative change. Journalism needs to be rethought globally and remade to meet the demands of new conditions.
George Brock’s new book Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age examines the past, present and future for a fragile industry battling a perfect storm of falling circulations, reduced advertising revenue, rising print costs and the impact of citizen journalists and free news aggregators.
Perhaps surprisingly to some, Brock argues that journalism can flourish in a new communications age:
· Journalism’s history shows that reporting the news is always being disrupted. The late 20th century was unusual for being a period when news was profitable and its institutions stable. Journalism has always had to adapt, experiment, improvise and renegotiate.
· Only some journalism is under threat, particularly regional journalism. Many printed newspapers will survive, though in the UK there is currently over-supply in all national categories (mass market, mid-market, high end).
· Print was in trouble before the internet came along. The peak year for daily and Sunday national paper circulation in Britain was 1955. What is falling apart is the industrial structure of the news business – and the ideas which went with it. The time when big news media dominated is over for print, broadcast and, even, online.
· What the internet does to news is reroute information, measure who consumes what and rewrite the business model. It does not abolish peoples’ need to know or the need to navigate (huge) information flows – the importance of journalistic selection, navigation, curation and comment remains.
· Unseen by many established journalists, a new generation of editors, writers and publishers are taking journalism’s values and trying to make them work in new contexts. The future of journalism depends on the quality of their experiments and failures to reboot journalism.
· Online communications bring the industrial phase of news media to an end, returning it – via social networks – to something which looks more like the news publishing of an earlier era.
· Online news platforms may not yet rival the institutions of mainstream media, but a few have moved past the phase of being fragile startups. Their agility (and lower cost base) will give them an advantage over time.
· If the journalists of tomorrow want to understand what happened and what will happen, they need to understand both what’s happening to journalism and to the business of news.
Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age
Kogan Page (Paperback, £19.99, 256 pages)
Published in the UK on 3 September