Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Future of Journalism online: A must see Media Watch

A must see Media Watch aired on Monday night.

"The newspaper format is a dead duck" pronounced Guardian media columnist Roy Greenslade, as Jonathan Holmes presented a special Media Watch that looked at the future of journalism in an online world.

They aired opinion from Greenslade, Crikey publisher Eric Beecher and Fairfax's Mike van Niekerk.

The show covered a few core points ...

- the online news model isn't as profitable as the traditional news model (Beecher talked about the SMH in glory 'rivers of gold' times pulling approx. 40k per page in revenues ... whereas the same ads in a digital format don't pull in the same bucks. Beecher:"So the 40-thousand dollars that advertisers pay for a classified page in a newspaper becomes something like 4-thousand dollars on the internet. "
- Given the above, who is going to pay for the foreign bureau's and the quality journalism. Especially considering digital mediums are so trackable, that editors have the luxury of seeing in real time what is generating page views, and in essence, revenue.
- Are Fairfax's core mastheads - The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald - heading in a more tabloid direction

It was great to see the conflicting views of Greenslade and Van Nikekerk.

Greenslade: "It's not a matter of saying 'hooray' newspapers are dying, it is simply a factual matter of revenue."

Van Niekerek: "People who say that newspapers are on their last legs and are about to die are completely wrong in my view. I think that newspapers have a very long future."

Greenslade's view was that the direction of journalism was shifting. "In future there will be advertising, it won't be enough to fund huge staffs as there are now, but we'll have a core of professional journalists. We can fund them and then, in company - in participation with citizen journalists, bloggers, user-generated content, however you want to describe that, amateur journalists - that in company with them - crowd-sourcing, mash-ups, however you want to do it - that you will form a different kind of approach to journalism. "

Personally I think this is already well underway - especially in the US.

Holmes spoke of renowned US and European mastheads, and their lack of trash/tabloid content. Check out and and you won't see articles on Amy Winehouse smoking crack or Britney Spears having a meltdown.

However on the Fairfax mastheads digital versions trash isn't taboo. Media Watch cited one day where Fairfax ran the following on the homepage

Dolphin killed in mid-air trick
Balls up: Ronaldo's prostitutes turn out to be transvestites.
I had you babe: Cher tells Oprah of Tom Cruise affair.
Janet's GLAAD about award— Sydney Morning Herald online, 29th April, 2008

Mike van Niekerk: "Absolutely you will see some stories that will resemble entertainment, stories about celebrities, I don't deny that. They are there. And that's part of what we do, is entertainment, but we also inform. And the quality journalism is there and those stories actually represent a very small fraction." Mike van Niekerk

So where is journalism heading as more eyeballs migrate online and the essence of newspapers changes? And how can brands like Fairfax that actively sell their premium AB audience maintain that position whilst heading more and more tabloid to generate reach and frequency in an ever competitive marketplace?

Will the real 'premium' eyeballs (ie the high net worth people) migrate off the Fairfax mastheads and look to overseas sites like The Guardian and the NY Times? Or even The Australian - which is probably News Digital Media's most underutilised resource - great articles, solid readership and broad content (with no tabloid)

Whatever happens, it's happy days for advertisers. The options keep on getting broader and the reliance on 1 or 2 publishers to hit the 'newspaper' readers has well and truly gone. There are hundreds of options now and it's a positive thing. I can buy ad space on virtually any newspaper in the world and can do it within 24 hours. This is the case with all content verticals - from music to movies, gaming to social networks, business, finance, technology and everything else ... I personally feel that sometimes local publishers neglect to recognise this and almost expect advertisers to spend with them despite superior options (context, audience) being available offshore.

I am also interested to see whether Media Watch evolves to cover more journalism - professional, amateur and blogs - on the show. Sometimes I scratch my head in confusion when they will cover a sourcing error at a North Queensland local paper for 10 minutes yet seem to ignore the blog world ...

Anyway - it is definitely worth a watch. Download link is below.


john said...

Circulate the newspaper through online is the new trend in newspaper industry. Social media, bolgging, RSS, Pod casting, Mobiles, etc… are widely using in print publishing industry. These new technology mediums become the revenue generation tools for the publishers. Some companies like Pressmart Media which is helping the print publishers in distribute over these mediums.

LAEM said...

Great post Ben - really glad I found this blog.

While the barriers to entry in publishing are zero; this creates another problem: the barriers to finding quality content.

The main mastheads have a huge advantage in that people know already that they have quality coverage; but I expect to see their share being nibbled away at the edges as people discover, slowly, the other options emerging.