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Thinking about the future of newspapers

Started by Mechanic, July 13, 2008, 04:59:58 AM

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Mechanic

I was at the local library the other day waiting, while my wife was looking for books to borrow. I was standing by a desk where local and national newspapers were available to read in the library. On one national newspaper, that some one had been reading, I noticed a number of red marks. On further examination I saw that the reader had been correcting errors, that he or she had encountered, while reading the paper. They were numerous.

I got to thinking that the technology that was able to finally eliminate hotmetal prepress operations from newspapers may in turn have an inverse impact on the future of newspapers, as we know them. With the invention and introduction of the Linotype, the cost of newspapers production was dramatically reduced. News and advertisements were typeset in a fraction of the time. Newspaper proprietor could increase the size of newspapers and their profits with little increase in production costs.

From the mid nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century, technology and the evolution of newspapers went hand in hand. This evolution included web-fed rotary letterpress machines that could produce in excess of 70,000 copies per hour, wire service, faster hotmetal typesetting machines driven by TTS units, the web-fed offset press, phototypesetting and the mini-computers to justify TTS tape. Finally, front-end computer systems and web-fed offset presses eliminated the need for the composing room, readers to check for errors and the stereo department. News and advertising departments were now responsible for the accuracy of the final product.

In the mid 80s newspaper readership was dropping. In Sydney, Fairfax stopped publishing The  Sun in  March, 1988. News Ltd stopped publishing the Daily Mirror soon after. This appears to be a world wide trend that is still continuing today.

In 1995 there was a new web for news and information that may very well spell the death-knell for newspapers, as we know them, it is the World Wide Web. Newspapers fought the impact on the industry of radio and TV. Radio and TV generally only give a synopsis of news stories. Newspapers on the other hand generally go into much more detail.

Surveys have found that increasingly people are visiting newspaper web sites. This offers internet users the opportunity to read stories of interest in detail from the newspaper's own database, free of charge. Some newspapers have seen a decline in print circulation as online viewing increases.  The Internet is growing annually at an rate of about 18% and now has in excess of one billion users.

I'm sure that I will continue to read newspapers, but I'm not so sure about the generations borne after the 80s
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast
Queensland
AUSTRALIA


Dave Hughes

I think you're right about the eventual demise of the traditional printed newspaper George.

But I think they're already making moves in the right direction. The future of news, surely has got to be the internet, it's more-or-less immediate. Most newspapers are new producing very good websites.

I think as mobile devices improve, in a future world where you can get instant wireless internet access for free everywhere, perhaps multi-function mobile phone devices with expandable or perhaps fold-out screens, the newspaper's days will be seriously numbered.

There would have to be a micro-payment system where you could instantly pay a few pence for each page or article that you read. The newspaper's advertising would be carried on the internet to your mobile device.

For the print and graphical industry it's a disaster. No more paper versions printed, much less opportunity for creative typography, design, etc. Web pages are invariably typographically worse than a printed version, so I could see those sort of skills being less in demand.

But to be able to get a little buzz in your pocket, and a news story of interest to you gets sent to the screen in your pocket. I don't think the day is far off!
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Mechanic

Currently newspapers appear to let you view current news and features online for free. They do however make a charge for archived items. I'm sure that newspaper archives would be more reliable than a lot of web sites. There was an article in the weekend newspaper, reporting that a lot of kids are flunking exams, because they were using wikipedia for research and coming up with incorrect information.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast
Queensland
AUSTRALIA


rag451

Robert Griffith
Burleson, Texas
www.burlesonlinotype.com
www.burlesonhistory.com

Mechanic

Obviously Fairfax Media see that the future of newspapers is on the internet, as they have launched a number of web newspapers, including the Brisbane Times.

http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast
Queensland
AUSTRALIA

listohan

In accordance with his usual practice, today Ross Gittens http://tinyurl.com/6d6zb4 cuts to the chase on the extent to which the media uncritically serves up bovine excrement from politicians, in this case on the question of modelling.

It's a sad fact of life for oldies like most of us that Gutenberg's invention would not have passed a New Inventors audition if he had come up with his idea 400 years later. It really has very little going for it for ephemeral material requiring wide distribution. Think classifieds, for example. Rivers of gold for Fairfax; free for Craig's list. How can you compete for that if your aren't a Fairfax shareholder.

Dave Hughes

Interesting article, unfortunately public transport (at least in the UK) declined in the 60s and 70s as people were sucked into the "freedom" that the motor car brought.

Unfortunately, in the not-too-distant future, those lessons will have to be un-learnt, and the infrastructure of public transport restored, if the planet stands any chance of survival.

In the interim, we've all been told we're individuals, society doesn't exist, you have no need to respect your fellow citizens, etc.

A lot of people refuse to use public transport because they don't want to mix with "ordinary" people.

Will be interesting to see how things turn out - after all there's more money to be made by selling everyone their own individual tin box to travel in than there is providing public transport.
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Mechanic

There was a very interesting interview on TV this evening on the current state of the newsmedia. Nick Davies, a journalist on the Guardian newspaper has written a book in which he describes what modern journalists have to contend with in an effort to report the news and meet ever current deadlines. 

See Daves copy of the transcript of the program below.


George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast
Queensland
AUSTRALIA

Dave Hughes

Interesting stuff, George.

I particularly liked his take on the Weapons of Mass Destruction non-story and how the media was "duped" big-style but didn't want to admit it!

Here's the transcript of the interview:

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: And now an interview with a journalist who's put the spotlight rather savagely on his own industry, and questioned what he sees as a deeply disturbing decline in journalistic standards.

Nick Davies is an investigative journalist of 30 years' standing who works mainly for England's Guardian newspaper. He's been journalist of the year, reporter of the year and feature writer of the year in various British press awards.

His book, Flat Earth News, focuses mainly on the state of UK quality newspapers, but he argues that the combination of manipulation by government and the PR industry on a media industry under endless cost-cutting pressures and an expanding workload is a pattern repeated the world over.

Nick Davies is here for the Melbourne Writers Festival, an irony of timing, given the latest round of big staff cuts announced this week at Australia's oldest newspaper group, Fairfax Media.

I spoke with him in Melbourne earlier today.

Nick Davies, you say journalism is in a bad state. What are the symptoms?

NICK DAVIES, JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: At its heart what's happened is that big corporations have taken over newspapers which used to be owned by small family firms and they've injected the logic of commercialism into newsrooms and that logic has overwhelmed the logic of journalism.

The big structural sign of that is that all across the developed world these new corporate owners of the newsrooms have cut editorial staff at the same time as they've increased the output of those staff. All those masses of extra supplements that newspapers now produce.

And the result of that is, crudely put... in the UK we did a big calculation on this, your average Fleet Street reporter now has only a third of the time to spend on each story that he or she used to have 20 years ago.

If you take away time from reporters, you are taking away their most important working asset. So they can't do their jobs properly any more. So in this commercialised world, you have journalists who instead of being active gatherers of news - going out and finding stories and making contacts and doing funny old-fashioned things like checking facts, they've become instead passive processors of second-hand information, stuff that come up on the wire Reuters or AP, stuff that comes from the PR industry.

And they churn it out. I use this word "churnalism" instead of journalism. They just churn this stuff over without having the time to check it, without having the time to decide whether or not this is what they should even be covering today. And it flows into the news and a lot of it is garbage.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So how does it manifest itself?

NICK DAVIES: Well it's false stories, is the big manifestation. So I started writing this book - this is the trigger, not the subject of the book, was those notorious weapons of mass destruction.

And it really irritated me that as the dust settled after the invasion of Iraq, the global media suddenly said 'oh hang on a minute, these famous weapons of mass destruction, they er, don't seem to exist' and then they debated the misinformation around the WMD, as though that were merely a problem of governments and intelligence agencies, without observing that the shape of the misinformation is in fact triangular and the third corner is ourselves.

Well if we don't admit that we screwed up, we don't then ask the most important question - why? Why would we take the defining story of our era, which I think you could describe the Iraqi story as, and make a mess of it. Why would we get it wrong?

And once you start to look at it you see that the WMD is by no means unusual in terms of being a big global story that flows through media outlets all across the planet and it's wrong.

I had a great fun going back on the story of the millennium bug, do you remember, what is it, eight years ago. For years I would think every media outlet on the planet ran stories about how all these computers were going to backfire, misfire, screw up and do all these terribly exciting and destructive things on millennium eve and, ooh, it didn't happen.

We were wrong. So did we analyse why? No, we just kind of brushed it under the carpet and got on with the next exciting adventure.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But are you really saying that's that is what's happening all the time - whenever a big story breaks or whenever somebody is pushing a particular point of view, the media just latches onto it and runs as a block?

NICK DAVIES: Almost. You know like in the old black and white films there's that classic image of the media at work, which is the printing presses. And tomorrow's newspaper comes swirling out of it. Well that's not the sound of newspapers any more. The sound of newspapers nowadays is this - baa baa... this is supposed to be a sheep. As we're led along particularly by the PR industry.

See this is the heart of the thing - is that while these new corporate owners have been cutting editorial staffs, those journalists who have lost their job have crossed the bridge over to the other side and joined the PR industry.

And certainly in the United Kingdom there was an invisible moment at some point in the past 10 years when the declining number of journalists was caught up and overtaken by the increasing number of PR people.

So this has all happened during the 30 years I've become a reporter it's completely changed.

KERRY O'BRIEN: When you talk about the role and influence of the PR industry, you give one example of a scientific report in England on climate change being seriously overcooked in a press release and what then happened. Can you just as briefly as possible elaborate on that story?

NICK DAVIES: Okay so I took one example where some scientists had run computer programs to try to predict the impact of small changes in temperature. And in order to get publicity, they picked the most extreme results that they had come up with, and therefore the press release which they put out actually distorted their own results.

That press release was then taken and distorted further by the coverage and it's a microcosm of this kind of two-step dance that PR and journalists engage in. Where the PR people distort and then we distort further and the poor old consumer on the end, the person who has bought the newspaper who wants or needs reliable information about the world, is being terribly badly cheated.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Is that what's happened with the climate change debate?

NICK DAVIES: Climate change is very interesting because what you've had there is a kind of three-way battle involving PR overwhelming journalism.

So you had a big bunch of corporations led by Exxon who were in the business of denial and who spent a fortune setting up front organisations and academic think-tanks to put out reports to justify their position of denial.

Then you had a breakaway group of corporations by Shell and BP who are much more subtle. They said okay there's a problem with climate but we are part of the solution. And they also generate PR stories to serve their purposes.

And then third corner you have the environmental groups, people like Greenpeace, who even though they have the scientific consensus on their side nevertheless engage, as I've shown in the book, in some pretty breathtaking exaggeration in order to manipulate the media to take up their position.

In the middle of this kind of three-way fight you have the equivalent of civilians in a war zone that is to say the readers and consumers of news media, who suffer like civilians do because they're being bombarded with misinformation and how any of us are supposed to know what the truth is about climate change and its implications when actually the news is being subverted by PR from three different directions it's really a very worrying thing when you see the structural likelihood of media being vehicles for PR stories.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But isn't it just a modern reality that media companies, like all corporations, are under enormous market and shareholder pressure to produce bigger and better profits to be more and more efficient? And hasn't modern technology provided journalists with the means to do the job quicker and more efficiently?

NICK DAVIES: The impact of electronic technology is very, very complex on this whole problem.

So certainly the corporate cost-cutters can say "you can now sit at your desk and do far more research than you used to be able to so we can cut your staff and you can still do the job". Fine.

But, the second implication of the electronic technology is that we've lost our deadlines. So it used to be the case on a daily newspaper that at least you had until 6 o'clock in the evening to do your story. Now the deadline is right there, five minutes ahead of your nose all day, every day. So you have less time as a result of that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Is that because you're also feeding the net?

NICK DAVIES: And then that's the other thing, is they say you've not only got to write the story, you've got to do the audio version, the video version, you've got to do vodcasts and podcasts, that all takes more time as well and divides your concentration. So that the quality of the work is going down even though the amount and the variation of the product is increasing.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Do you see anything good in the internet and its impact on journalism?

NICK DAVIES: So the internet helps individual journalists. So you can get far more information sitting at your desk. You can reach far more people.

The story that I write today doesn't die 24 hours later in the old paper version - it's there people can keep picking it up forever. That's great.

But I do not subscribe to the view that we will be saved by the operation of citizen journalists and bloggers. I think there is a lot of cockeyed naivete about that. And that an awful lot of what bloggers put out is false, is crazy ideas and crazy facts, to the extent that bloggers have reliable information very often that's because they're feeding off the small extent to which the mainstream media are coming up with reliable information. If the mainstream are going to carry on getting weaker, as I fear, then the proportion of reliable information which the bloggers come up with will also decline.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So where does all this leave television and radio?

NICK DAVIES: In the same kind of mess that the print media are in. There's no difference, I'm afraid, because news is expensive and unless we find a new financial model we won't be able to deliver it and I don't quite see where that new financial model is coming from and I don't know any media proprietor who can see it either. They're all very worried.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Nick Davies, thanks very much for talking with us.

NICK DAVIES: OK.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And there will be a longer version of that interview on our web if you're interested.
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Mechanic

Thanks for putting the transcript on, Dave.  I have just checked and it is not yet in the archives.
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast
Queensland
AUSTRALIA

listohan

"The Sydney Morning Herald has been named as a finalist in the annual Newspaper of the Year award. The other finalists in the same category are Melbourne's The Age and Herald- Sun and Brisbane's Courier Mail. The winner will be announced on September 10."

Yesterday The Age announced the redundancy of 550 journalists.

Theoretically, the demise of metal type was to be the opportunity to give newspapers a new lease on life. Roll on 20 years and technology intervenes again.

Mechanic

The Journalists at the Melbourne Age and The Sydney Morning Herald have gone on strike for the weekend in response to the job cuts, that  affect five per cent of the Fairfax workforce in Australia and New Zealand.The cuts are being made under a new business improvement plan to save A$50 million a year.

Following is the archive address for the 7.30 report video.

Media industry in crisis as standards decline: Davies

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2008/s2348362.htm

On the right-hand side of the page just click on the Media Player you prefer
George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast
Queensland
AUSTRALIA

listohan

Australian readers will know of the "rivers of gold", the classified advertisements which have been the lifeblood of The Age and the SMH since the earliest days. The ABC's Media Watch program last night had some very scary figures about how the drought in Australia is affecting more than the river Murray.

More at http://tinyurl.com/5huynz

Dave Hughes

As the anchor-man said at the end "Gloomy Stuff" indeed!

The managers at Fairfax seem to be pretty ruthless - it seems like a downward spiral, shoddy rushed journalism, readers not buying the papers, less attractive to advertisers, and down it goes!
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listohan

I think that is a little unfair. It's basically a choice of delivery (aka printing on paper) which has inherent limitations. The journalism could be the highest standard but if it is to be subsidised by classifieds, how can you compete with Craig's list?


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