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Newspapers: Fading away?

by Archives January 24, 2007

Small town community newspapers gobbled up by huge multimedia competitors are finding a new medium; the Internet.

Blogspot.com, a site that publishes blogs for varied audiences, is now niche to ‘Media Fade: Fading to Black’, a blog determined to reverse the process of falling newspaper readership.

No longer is media concentration the only paramount worry in the newspaper sphere: for some, the survival of the newspaper itself tops the charts.

According to the Canadian Newspaper Association, between 2005 and 2006 the newspaper industry sales dropped by 45,000 newspapers, a 1 per cent decline.

Although such a number does not spell the immediate end of the newspaper industry, decline in newspaper readership has been an ongoing trend since 2002.

Some, like Mike Gasher, director of the journalism program at Concordia University, believe that people are turning to the Internet, a faster and more efficient news source, for their daily news update.

“I think people will continue to read newspapers for a long time to come. The question is, in which format? I think it is obvious that people are gradually shifting to online editions of both their favourite newspapers and browsing on the Internet other newspapers and other news providers from around the world,” said Gasher.

“And newspapers are looking for ways to enhance their websites and make them profitable.”

Yet ‘Media Fade: Fading to Black’ blogspot opens optimistically with a mission statement by Lisa Snedeker, a journalist from Media Life Magazine who believes the newspaper industry will soldier on, especially after having already endured multiple historical challenges.

“For all its problems, the American newspaper remains an extremely healthy institution that enjoys a vital and powerful connection with readers and advertisers,” she said. “When it comes to their local papers, readers have a sense of ownership. They call it ‘my paper.’ Nobody talks about ‘my TV station’ or ‘my radio station.'”

Others also have faith in the newspaper. Gasher believes that newspaper media has survived through a chameleon effect, adapting and changing to the environment of other media.

“Historically, old media have not disappeared with the emergence of new media, but have transformed themselves.

Newspapers did not disappear when film, radio and TV appeared. Radio and film did not die when TV appeared, etc. Instead, they adapted to new media competition,” said Gasher.

Gasher maintains that newspapers will adapt as well and will survive in hard-copy form.

Although people may turn to online editions for breaking news, they will still require hard-copy editions.

“They will likely co-exist for a long time to come, but will assume different roles as news providers,” Gasher explained.

To Snedeker, newspapers offer a community feel that other media just can’t.

“Newspapers are a mass medium at the local level, and in that sense something that belongs to everyone,” she said.

“Newspapers offer readers a sense of community and also a sense of the public good, as a forum for discussion of issues facing communities, and this is never more so than during periods of crisis or dramatic social change.”

‘Media Fade’ asked for anonymous answers to the question, ‘How is the morale in your newsroom?’ Typical answers were along the lines of, “I think most of us feel this job is a stepping stone and we’re hesitant to really set up shop,” and “Whoohoo! Made it through 01-01-07. Seriously, it’s not looking good.”

These responses do not offer a bright outlook for those within the newspaper industry.

Andrew Phillips, Editor-in-Chief of The Gazette, warns young journalists against the fall in salaries and opportunities within the journalism world.

“If I was a young journalist I wouldn’t worry about my voice being suppressed, I would worry about who is going to be around in five to 10 years [with enough money] to pay me a salary, a good salary to do the kind of work I would like to do.”

Yet Gasher believes it’s too early to be talking about the end of newspapers.

“It is far too early to be talking about the death of newspapers. Circulation for mainstream daily newspapers is slowly declining, but newspapers continue to be very profitable, and we are seeing the emergence of other kinds of newspapers.

The free dailies given away in Metro stations are doing very well, circulation-wise, business-wise,” said Gasher.

He also emphasized the practicality of the newspaper because of its affordability and its appeal to advertisers who stand to profit very much from full-page advertisements that attract readers.

With climate change and a growing concern for businesses to become environmentally sound, according to Gasher, the newspaper industry is bound to be affected.

“I think a threat to newspapers that is not often considered in these discussions is the cost of newsprint and ink.

Newspaper publication is a dirty business environmentally speaking, and the costs of newsprint, ink and the physical delivery of hard-copy newspapers are only going to rise in the future. From an economic perspective, that is what makes the Internet so attractive as a delivery vehicle,” he explained.

Phillips believes that written journalism is still one of the most popular forms of news transmission, whether on paper, online or in newer sources like community blogs.

“You have to make the distinction between print journalism and written journalism. Print journalism, [refers to newspapers.]

There are some big questions over that. We know that the newspaper industry is going through a crisis of self-confidence. Circulation is going down and readership is not growing,” Phillips argued.

He also insinuated there will always be room for the written form of journalism, even if it is only accessible online.

Phillips is confident The Gazette, as well as other newspapers, will find alternative forms of written journalism if necessary.

“Even newspapers have a lot of life in them. The overall audience is not growing, but there’s a very important core of people who are very loyal to newspapers and still are the biggest news audience in some places, especially in Montreal.

I think these people will stick with us to a large extent, the challenge is there’s not enough growth there, so that’s why, we, and other newspapers, are increasingly looking for new approaches.”

‘Media Fade’ runs articles addressing the future of newspapers in the United States. The site highlights the highs and lows of the American newspaper industry soliciting anonymous, well-written and informative comments. For a complete source of raw, unedited information check out: http://mediafade.blogspot.com


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