Earlier this month, the Globe and Mail, which bills itself as Canada’s national newspaper, released a new glossy and colourful redesign in a bid to up readership. According to its publisher, it was one of the most dramatic changes made to the daily in its 166-year history.
In a world dominated by BlackBerrys, iPhones and the ever-growing presence of the Internet in people’s lives, the future of print journalism has been on the minds of more than one editor over the past few years. Will there come a day when the printing presses are turned off and the newsstands are closed for good?
According to Leo Gervais, a journalism professor who teaches print classes at Concordia, the number of readers who prefer ink-stained hands from a hard copy of a newspaper over a keyboard will continue to go down. However, the number of what he calls “media consumers’ will increase.
“‘Advertisers want eyeballs &- people seeing their products &- so the clever and innovative media will survive,” he says. “‘The pool of media consumers will grow, the question is how to get their attention and keep it. And charge advertisers for that.”
Gervais says a new layout doesn’t go far enough to bring in more readers. With a rapidly-changing landscape, he explains that media outlets have little choice but to try and incorporate some social networking ideas into what they do.
“‘Media consumers want to interact, comment, see videos and so on,” he says. “‘The Globe and Mail has a great reputation and they can build on it, but no newspaper will survive without embracing new technology.”
But Raymond Brassard, managing editor of the Gazette, doesn’t see print disappearing anytime soon, although he recognizes the important role played by the web in today’s media world.
“‘For at least the next 20 to 25 years I predict that print will continue to be robust and a vehicle for advertisers, while Internet will continue to be another platform for news,” he says. “‘There will always be people who want their news through print. Maybe Internet will give the breaking news, while the print copy the next day will take on a more magazine format and go in-depth on the stories from the Web. That’s more difficult to predict.”
Brassard says all Canadian newspapers are suffering from declining readership, but the Gazette is doing better than most for two reasons: its unique situation as the only English daily in Montreal and its loyal audience &- primarily the baby boom generation.
The paper sells approximately 135,000 copies a day, while its website, one of the first newspaper websites in Canada, receives over 900,000 unique visitors a month. The average age of a Gazette newspaper reader is 52, while the average age for a web site visitor is 48.
“‘We have to be open to change and be quick, because what’s most important is providing what our readers want,” says Brassard. “‘We’re still a trusted source of information and people will always need that.”
Similarly, Gervais emphasizes that whatever the future may hold for journalism, quality information and good writing skills will always be incredibly important.
“‘Those who embrace the change and get creative will find and keep media consumers,” he says. “‘But one thing is for sure: there will always be a need for trained journalists who know how to write. Where their work will appear and how people will access it is the million dollar question.”