Thriving despite the doomsayers


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 11 Jun 2006

NEWSPAPERS are here to stay despite threats from new digital technologies, proving doomsayers wrong yet again.  

Indeed, those who have been predicting the end of newspapers have grossly underestimated the entrepreneurial and strategic skills of publishers and editors.  

They have also failed to acknowledge the wave of innovations and radical changes undertaken by the global newspaper industry to cater to the tastes of modern readers.  

Having stood the test of time for over 400 years, traditional newspapers are destined to remain for the long term, outliving their many would-be competitors.  

As such, one might be forgiven for remaining sceptical about the doom and gloom forecasters, who went into overdrive with their predictions.  

For there were also those who had so brazenly sounded the death knell for the newspaper industry when television became the so-called new media years ago.  

 

Symbiotic relationship 

Newspaper publishers and editors remained focused as never before in seizing the new opportunities and embracing change to connect with their readers and advertisers.  

Undoubtedly, news organisations are facing challenging times as the line between the traditional press and digital media is becoming increasingly blurred.  

Instead of fretting about the clout of the likes of Internet news portals such as Google and Yahoo!, they have resolved to seek ways to embrace the countless opportunities of the digital age.  

At the just-concluded world press summit in Moscow, media practitioners pledged to re-invent themselves by promoting innovative online services and producing more than traditional journalism.  

They also agreed to craft strategies to adapt to the changing habits of the younger generation and forge a closer link to their local community.  

The four-day brainstorming touched on issues ranging from newspapers embracing citizen journalism and offering multi-media services to developing weekend editions and supplements as well as protecting newspaper credibility.  

Integrating readers and bloggers into the news process appeared to be one of the hottest topics, as newspapers sought to place the local community at the heart of their business.  

The new media boys, on the other hand, chose to play down what they regarded as perceived fears of news portals, saying they wanted to be seen as partners, not competitors, of traditional newspapers.  

“We’re not trying to have an editorial voice,” said Google’s product manager Nathan Stoll, while Yahoo! News general manager Neil Budde spoke of a symbiotic relationship between old and new media.  

Some editors, however, remained unconvinced, with one saying that newspapers had reached a stage where “we have to adapt or die”.  

There is little doubt, though, that the print media will survive but, according to another editor, there could be fewer newspapers because “there will simply be fewer regular readers”.  

“But don’t forget that newspapers are still very hard to beat in terms of value-for-money, portability, accessibility and legibility,” said World Editors Forum president George Brock.  

He drove home the message that the success of newspapers would be very much dependent on their ability to attract young readers.  

 

Incredibly resilient 

Yet, despite the tough times facing the global newspaper industry, print advertisement revenue and circulation figures worldwide shot up last year.  

What’s more, newspaper advertising revenue showed the highest jump in four years while circulation went up slightly, according to the World Association of Newspapers (WAN).  

Globally, the industry continued to remain upbeat about its future advertising revenue while keeping a watchful eye on broadcast media.  

Although Internet advertising growth outpaced that of newspaper advertisements by more than four times last year, the digital revolution did not put a full stop to its sales.  

“There is no absolute fatality about circulation decline,” said Timothy Balding, chief executive officer of WAN, which represents 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries worldwide.  

Newspaper circulation worldwide increased by 1.21% while advertising revenue showed gains of 5.7% last year from a year earlier and up 11.7% over five years.  

Globally, newspapers are expected to remain the largest advertising medium after television “for many years”, said Balding.  

“Newspapers are proving to be incredibly resilient against the onslaught of online media,” he noted.  

Overall, the audience for newspapers continued to grow both in print and online.  

The report added that newspapers were increasing their reach through the exploitation of a wide range of new distribution channels, including online editions.  

The latest data, from WAN’s annual survey of world press trends, was released to more than 1,700 publishers, editors and CEOs from 110 countries who attended the 59th World Newspaper Congress and 13th World Editors Forum in Moscow.  

China was the largest market for newspapers, with 96.6 million copies sold daily, followed by India (78.7 million); Japan (69.7 million); the United States (53.3 million); and Germany (21.5 million).  

 

  • Choi Tuck Wo is Editor, European Union Bureau, based in London (e-mail: twchoi@thestar.com.my) 

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