One of the major factors threatening the survival of newspapers is that technology has critically altered the news cycle. Before television most major city markets around the world had separate morning and evening newspapers. The television 6pm evening news destroyed the afternoon papers and now only a few cities in the world, such as London, have an evening paper. However, the free evening papers given away on railway stations to commuters are growing with News owned thelondonpaper up 20% to over one million readers.
Traditionally reporters had to file stories by about 8.00pm for printing late in the evening and distribution in the early hours of the morning. By breakfast the newspaper was already over 12 hours old and breaking news outdated by the breakfast radio and television news programs such as the Today Show and Sunrise.
The news cycle has now been further shortened with the immediacy of online news and news delivered direct to mobile phones.
International developments that largely occur during our night including stock market reports, exchange rates and world news have missed the morning newspapers but drive peak morning television, Sky News on Pay TV and internet news services. Even the latest Hollywood celebrity gossip is delivered live to air in the mornings or twittered direct to your mobile.
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Does the newspaper have any role to play in the news cycle or is it destined to extinction? Juan Senor, who consults to a number of newspapers around the world, argued at the PANPA publishing conference last year that the role of the newspaper is “only 20 per cent news and 80 per cent why it happened, feature stories, informed comment and what’s next”.
Senor argued that the news cycle starts with breaking news online, TV, radio and the mobile then move to analysis 12-24 hours later in newspapers and ends up back on the internet with its huge storage ability.
I am not sure that the internet does not do the commentary and analysis job better too as well as being a historical archive of stories with the ability to keep updating in real time.
The News Cycle:
There is both good and bad news for the papers on the online front. First, they moved early in developing their own online news sites and actually Fairfax, News Limited and Nine MSN absolutely dominate the online news market in Australia. They have the great advantage of not only brand name but huge resources of journalists, commentators and editors.
Individual bloggers, though sometimes noisy such as the Drudge Report or The Huffington Post in the US and others with a relatively small but influential readership such as Crikey or Business Spectator in Australia, have struggled to become mass circulation. The exception may be Murdoch with his Fox News channel which is rating higher than CNN in the US and it will be interesting to see how Google goes with its aggregated service sourcing from major international newspapers and news agencies.
The bad news is, as I have written about before, that the newspaper publishers by providing the online news service for free have committed autosarcophagy.
Finally, the quantity of news on the newspaper’s online sites swamps the printed newspapers. It is difficult to count the online stories as they break around the clock, drop off the pages as they get replaced by newer stories and include the printed stories and columns. As a result the following is not an accurate count but illustrative:
The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday had approximately 107 main stories in the printed paper. The leading local printed news stories totalled 11 with the SMH online had 30 breaking stories in a two hour period alone. The Nation section had 21 stories and online 30 new stories during the day. World news was 11 stories with online having another 30 breaking between 9am and 5.00pm alone — and so it continued in Business and Sport, with online having multiples of the hard paper copy and the Video section hundreds of video stories. The first section of the SMH had 22 pages of which 10 were advertising with the business and sports sections having very little advertising.
With the volume of news available in the online edition, the continual breaking stories and the archives at your fingertips, advertising and hence the survival of the printed papers must be hanging on by a thread.