The following was written for Press Gazette last week – in between the last presentation on Thursday and a drinks evening. The edited (and probably better) version that appeared in print is here. The original draft which led with Jane Singer’s paper is below:
The future of news is more free newspapers, more ‘viewspapers’ – and less money, according to a leading academic.
Jane Singer, Chair in Digital Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, was speaking at the Future of Newspapers conference in Cardiff. Presenting ‘Five W’s and an H: Questions about a Digital Future’, she suggested “Media forms rarely die, but they do evolve.
“I think we will have more free newspapers – taking advantage of print’s portability – and we will have more newspapers offering context, analysis and opinion – material that cannot be produced or consumed in a hurry.”
The future of news is undoubtedly digital, but as newspapers move online to shore up falls in revenue, Singer warned owners not to get their hopes up.
“Can money be made online? Yes. Is it the same amount of money from the same sources, that has sustained mass media for generations? Almost certainly not.
“If newspapers stick with an advertising model I don’t think they will reach the same revenues.”
The mass market ad-driven newspaper, said Singer, was a “historical anomaly” driven by technological, literacy and commercial factors throughout the last 150 years. These same factors are now driving the medium in a different direction, a process that Singer called ‘punctuated equilibrium’ from the phrase by evolutionary scientist Stephen J.Gould.
“There’s a temptation to see that as a threat – but we should look at it as liberating.
”We don’t need journalists to cover minutiae, to spend so much time on things they don’t need to be doing, like sports scores, and press releases, and acting as a ‘middle man’ between a source and their audience.
”We need journalists to put information into context, to do it without fear or favour.”
Also suggesting that print’s best days were over was Robert G. Picard, Director of the Media Management and Transformation Centre in Sweden, who presented his research showing that direct mail – and not the internet – was the biggest threat to newspaper advertising revenue.
Looking at the relationship between advertising revenue and GDP, Picard, argued that newspapers were entering a period of decline. “It follows the basic industry lifecycle but over five centuries.”
With advertising growth failing to keep pace with inflation, and greater volatility, Picard said, it was difficult for owners to work strategically.
“While classified advertising drove growth in the ‘80s and ‘90s, in the last ten years that has been declining.
“I can see a plateau in advertising spend, denying revenue growth and sustainability.”
Decline, however, wouldn’t mean the end of newspapers.
“It means it cannot operate in the way it did. I think we will return to a period like the 1950s when the industry was less financially interesting to investors primarily interested in revenue and growth.
”We will see less ads, less pages, less sections, and more focused. My advice to editors would be to start killing sections. People reading newspapers in ten years will want news.”