The struggle to survive in a digital age

Newspapers are still being printed and purchased. Will that last?

With each new medium that comes along people have been predicting the demise of the medium that came before. “Television was going to kill movies, television was going to kill radio and then radio was going to kill newspapers,” says John Hinds, president and chief executive officer of Newspapers Canada.

Hinds has been in the industry for about 14 years and he doesn’t think any new technology has ever bumped out an old one because he believes every medium reinvents itself to suit the marketplace.

“There will always be a place for the print publication… I don’t see the demise of the newspaper,” says Hinds.

“Obviously multiplatform is going to grow, but I think there will always be a group for traditional print media.”

According to the 2013/14 mid-year overview results from NADbank, adults polled in “the top seven markets read a daily every week. In print or ONLINE, of the 3 in 4 Canadians who read each week, 11 per cent read only digital content and 55 per cent read only printed newspapers.”

“Print continues to be the primary source for newspaper content, approximately double the reach for content read ONLINE.”

The online world, however, has consumed the majority of new consumers and it’s still growing.

“Digital content is still driven by the written word and it’s an evolution of what print is. I think it’s evolving into an online format and it’s evolved already,” says Stephanie Matteis, a broadcast journalist at CBC News Toronto.

“I teach specialized reporting (at the University of Guelph-Humber) and we put out a hard copy of our newspaper and we have stacks of it remaining at the end of the distribution period because people aren’t picking it up,” says Matteis.

She added that they’re reading it online but aren’t picking up the physical copies.

Information has become so easily accessible that you can spend minutes at a COMPUTER, on a tablet, or on a phone and get information that may have taken you days to acquire before the Internet was around.

Kathy English, the public editor at the Toronto Star, says, “There have been incredible changes in the past three decades in journalism and the newspaper industry.”

English has been in the industry about 35 years and completed her master’s thesis on the evolution of the Canadian newspaper industry and a 100-year history of the industry from 1899 to 1999. She says the biggest change is the world wide web making all information easily accessible.

She says people who work in the industry have had to struggle to learn how to do journalism in new ways, on new platforms. “Social media in the last decade changed things AGAIN. It brought in citizen journalism, the idea that the people who are our audience are now actively involved in the news. It’s changed everything, and every day I see our newsroom and other newsrooms trying to come to grips with how much digital has changed what we’ve always done,” she says.

English is one of many in the industry observing the changes the world wide web has brought forth. Hinds SHARED his observations as well.

“It’s also becoming part of the 24 hour news cycle. You used to have a newspaper in the morning and a deadline, and you wrote your story and filed it and edited it and everything else, but now, obviously it’s hugely challenging for newsrooms, because you’re now the 24 hour news cycle, moving across different platforms,”says Hinds.

Matteis says she thinks these big changes are scary for aspiring journalists and uncharted territory for current journalists.

Access to sites like Twitter and other new media platforms has made it unbelievably easy to find out what’s going on not only around you, but anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world, at any time. Although, “getting the tweet saying ‘there is a tornado’ is very different than validating it and explaining it,” says Hinds.

In that sense, it’s somewhat generational. The older generation was born and raised around traditional news sources and doesn’t have the benefit of being so tech savvy.

English says she loves newspapers so much that she refuses to believe they won’t be around, but knows that most young people don’t seek out a print paper. She adds that her kids are in their twenties and “not reading newspapers and they grew up in a household where there was always two or three coming in every day.”

“We have the millennial generation that probably isn’t reading print newspapers very much and has learned to consume journalism in different ways,” English says.

Hinds, on the other hand, says the generational element was always there. “Everyone says ‘our kids don’t read the newspapers,’ but our parents told us ‘oh my god the kids today don’t read newspapers.”

So there’s the generational aspect of accessibility to social media and other digital news outlets and there’s also the theory that absorbing your news in different ways depends on your habits.

There may be a habitual and situational aspect to the consumption of news from different mediums as well. “It’s a different habit and pattern with ONLINE and it’s really different depending on the category you’re looking at. The Internet works really well for certain things … but there are still core strengths that newspapers have that will never go away,” says Kelly Levson, the director of research at Newspapers Canada.

Hinds says people will read a newspaper in the morning when they’re eating breakfast “and then they’re on transit or driving and they’ll do it on their phone, then at work they’ll do it on their COMPUTER, then in the evening they may sit down with their tablet or have another look at the print product. So it’s really situational.”

“It’s all about lifestyle too. Like coffee and a newspaper, or reading a newspaper on a Saturday morning, or on the way to work. I think there are rituals that individuals have and I don’t think those are going to die out,” says Hinds.

English mirrored that statement, speaking about her own personal habits.

“I still start my day reading a couple of newspapers front to back and spend a lot of time reading newspapers, but I’m also ONLINE most of the day as well,” she says.

While it may make it that much easier to access information and stay informed at all times, it’s also presented major challenges for the industry and the people who work in it. The Internet changed everything for journalists.

Until the Internet came to be, as long as they’ve existed, newspapers have been put together the same way. They’ve been written, designed, formatted,, printed and sold the same way since the beginning.

“The original printed newspaper is great, you can find it, you can read it, you can take it anywhere, you don’t have connection problems. You can see it. It has color,” Hinds says.

While producing a physical copy does cost MONEY, it also brings in money in ways online publications have not found a way to.

Hinds says he thinks newspapers made a big mistake when they first went online, “Because we very much viewed that our print product was the core product and we used the online product to drive readers to our print product, so we gave it away for FREE. I think once you give content away for free, it’s very hard to then go to your readers with the value proposition.”

“The Toronto Star still gets most of its revenue from advertising,” English says, adding that she thinks the issue for the industry is that the business model that FUNDED good journalism is at risk.

She says the real question is, that if advertisers aren’t advertising in newspapers, then who does the quality journalism newspapers have traditionally done? “The investigations, the shoe leather reporting of City Hall and Queens Park – the things that require what we like to call boots on the ground (reporters that are finding things out for people). So far, nobody has figured out a way that digital journalism is going to pay for that kind of reporting.”

“Local relevance is what I think will help more on the community side,” says Levson. “It will help keep the smaller newspapers relevant and strong. The other part of it is content, newspapers are the credible source of content, you see that when other media go to the newspaper to find out what’s really happening,” says Levson..

She adds that they’re “actually seeing an increase in circulation in community newspapers and that’s primarily in what we call the controlled circulation, which is free distribution. The community newspaper picture is 95 per cent free and only five per cent of it is paid.”

She says it doesn’t matter if a product is paid or FREE – if it gets into the home, it gets read, so there are still readers.

According to a study on the strength of community newspapers done this year by Newspapers Canada, “community newspapers are relevant to local residents.”

The 2013 Connecting to Canadians with Community Newspapers study says that community newspapers “reach all upscale demographics — professionals, well-educated, affluent consumers — as well as families with children and homeowners.

Paid and free-circulation community newspapers enjoy equally high readership. On average, one quarter of Canadians read only their community newspaper, and most readers read every issue, cover to cover.”

Hinds says he would talk to people about the newspaper industry and laugh. “We don’t have an audience problem, it’s not like no one is reading our content, if you look at most small communities, you type in the name of it, it will actually go to the newspaper site because it’s the only OPTION you have in those small towns.”

So it is definitely a convenient way to consume news, it is evolving, and it is being used by millions of people world wide, but these experts don’t think that it’s going to die out. Not just yet at least.

“I think that the baby boomer generation will continue reading newspapers for the rest of their lives, meaning there’s probably two or three decades of newspaper readership left,” says English.

“I really don’t think it’s ever going to all shift to ONLINE. I don’t think that newspapers will ever disappear,” says Levson.

“There will always be a place for the print publication, I think people still want print newspapers and people still BUY print newspapers and enjoy reading them,” says Hinds.

So while there may still be room for the print publication, a survey done by Convergence shows that the Internet seems to be the main source of news for individuals in Ontario.

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