There are going to be some important announcements from some of the world’s major newspaper groups in coming months about their futures that will result in the nature of journalism, its reporting and distribution, changing dramatically in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, Italy and the US — for a start.
From Fairfax Media here, to The New York Times in the US, Postmedia in Canada, The Telegraph and Guardian in the UK, and two major groups in Italy, the changes will have newspaper editions culled, along with journalists and support staff jobs (or already going in the early stages of the change) and distribution change dramatically as the long hoped for saviour of revenues — digital advertising and paywalls — prove to be a chimera.
In fact that seems to be the driver of much of the changes: the realisation that going digital with paywalls, and boosting ad online ad revenues will not save them – nor will going exclusively towards mobile media and the likes of Facebook and Twitter. Underlying these decisions, though, has been the acceleration in the size of the fall in revenues from print ad and paper sales in the past year. This has been especially noticeable in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and parts of the US market.
In some cases, governments will provide assistance. Many companies will head towards the sort of model the Financial Times is pushing on with: cutting back on the primacy of the print edition and posting news stories, columns and analytical items when they become available to the editors and not when published. But even the FT is looking at weaker print ad sales (but its How To Spend It magazine remains a gold mine) in the current sluggish UK and global economic environments.
So how are things shaping up around the globe?
Fairfax Media in Australia and NZ (where its newspapers are to be merged into the recently separated print and radio assets of APN News and Media in a listed company on the NZ and Australian sharemarkets). Fairfax Media is heading towards scrapping its Monday-to-Friday editions of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and perhaps the weekend edition of the AFR. Monday-to-Friday editions at major regional papers in Newcastle, Wollongong and at The Canberra Times could also be cut back in a wide-ranging revamp that will have more resources promised for the websites (as always happens, at first, in these cuts), but the papers become nothing more than vehicles to maintain interest and promote Fairfax’s Domain online property business.
In the UK
The Guardian has plans to cut 350 editorial and support jobs in a revamp aimed at lowering costs but also positioning the company for the digital future. It will have to decide if it can start charging for content currently free on its popular websites in the UK, US and Australia. The privately-owned Telegraph has yet to produce the full results of a top to bottom review of the company ordered by the owners, the reclusive Barclay twin brothers who live in the tax haven in the Channel Islands. Trinity Mirror, a listed print group is pushing towards another cost cutting round, despite axing dozens of journalists in the past year. And the Daily Mail & General Trust will soon have to confront the fact that the digital ad revenues for its very popular Mail Online free news website and for the papers will not replace the print ad revenues draining away currently at more than 15% a quarter. The Brexit vote last month and the damage that is doing to the UK economy could push that fall to 20% or more, according to Enders Analysis in London.
In the US
The industry is waiting for The New York Times to reveal its radical restructuring of its domestic and international print and digital news-gathering, reporting and distribution. The announcement could come in tandem with the second-quarter earnings announcement on July 28, but some US analysts say they wouldn’t be surprised if it comes in August — at the end of the northern summer, as promised. Earlier this year, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet announced an ambitious overhaul that sought to re-examine “everything we do”. He tasked a committee of senior editors and other experts to examine the paper’s performance from top to bottom — in print and digital. In late May, Baquet revealed some of the proposed ideas.
The most important moves were cited in media reports as, “A shift away from commodity coverage” and towards “hard-hitting ‘only-in-The New York Times’ coverage: authoritative journalism and information readers can use to navigate their lives.” This radical revamp could lead to staff cuts in 2017 according to the executive editor (but none this year), but there will also be new jobs added.