Monday, 4 May 2009

The exponential decline of newspapers

The New York times has announced its intention to shut down the Boston Globe. The decline of traditional newspapers - and the attention given to it - has escalated rapidly over the past few months, thanks to declining advertising revenue and the ubiquitous Global Financial Crisis. Australia is fairly protected from the current drama - but the reality is that the GFC has only accelerated the inevitable.

For the past decade news online has been free. This was not a problem when it was merely a supplement to print and broadcast news. But suddenly the internet is the predominant medium, and some very upset media providers are struggling to jam the cat back into the bag. According to the New York Times, possible solutions the AP is investigating are:

"to make sure that the top search engine results for news are “the original source or the most authoritative source,” not a site that copied or paraphrased the work.

The A.P. will also pursue sites that reproduce large parts of articles, rather than using brief links, and it is developing a system to track articles online and determine whether they were used legally."

I think both of these strategies are reasonably fair, as far as they go. But the reality is that an increasing quantity of news is now made available by the people who are there to witness it - on twitter, flickr, even Wikipedia updates. Yes, there is still value in quality investigative journalism - this is hard to replace. But the people who distribute this journalism need to rethink their target audiences and how they can reach them effectively. Thanks to the internet, there is no need for newspapers to be all things to all readers. There's no need to create new content to a topic when you can link to the equivalent.

Jeff Jarvis wrote a passionate and articulate response to the increasingly shrill cries of traditional media, entitled "The "speech the NAA should hear". I highly recommend it and am slowly plowing my way through the copious comments underneath it. Lots of gems of wisdom, although everyone is still struggling to answer the same question - how do we reinvent the media business model so that it is still high quality and sustainable?