Juan Pedro García explains why, with the advance of the Internet, printed newspapers are coming up against a great number of challenges. In Garcia‘s opinion, it is essential for the printed media to adapt itself to fit the new times and technologies, not only to ensure their own survival, but also to avoid negative impacts on free expression, and objective reporting. A reduction in the diversity of printed news sources could present a backsliding for pluralism and democracy. The press, therefore, needs to look towards the future, taking advantage of new technologies and offering readers a diversity of viewpoints. If not, we may very well see in our lifetime, the end of printed news.
Juan Pedro García is a consultant on media and marketing and is up for a doctorate at the Complutense University in Madrid. He was the head of marking for the newspaper El Mercurio in Chile for over ten years. He has a Master’s in Engineering Science from the Catholic University of Chile, and another in Integrated Marketing Communications from Northwestern University in the United States.
ONE OF THE GREATEST SUCCESSES OF THE DAILY NEWSPAPER since its birth has been its capacity to adapt itself and survive in the face of new modes of communication. Radio, television, cable, free newspapers, and, most recently, the Internet have one by one threatened to replace the daily printed-paper.
For decades the newspaper has held strong, but recent evidence is beginning to show that the number of printed media readers is declining drastically. And if this decrease began before the advent of the Internet, it is clear that this most recent technology is the most threatening of all to the survival of the printed news.
THREAT OR OPPORTUNITY?
There are two principal reasons why the Internet is the gravest of all threats: first, because until limited bandwidth is able to make the Internet a truly multimedia experience, it remains a largely reading-intensive medium; and second, because the majority of newspapers have not yet figured out whether to consider the Internet as a danger, or an opportunity.
In my experience working in newspapers for over twelve years, I have seen directors frantically limiting the growth of their own WebPages in order to ensure that their electronic edition does not compete with their printed product. Until newspapers decide how to deal with the Internet, it will continue to pose a major obstacle to their self-perpetuation.
ATTRACTING READERS OF THE FUTURE
In order for a newspaper to survive, it must attract future readers. For decades, newspapers have been pouring millions of dollars into education programs, in an attempt to get youths and adolescents in the habit of reading the newspaper, and win their loyalty. But can the sun be blotted out with a finger?
How much time will the readers of the future, let’s say the readers of about 2015 to 2020, be spending on printed newspapers, and how much on digital news sources in their many different versions, with new technologies that we can hardly imagine, and with the support of the global WiFi network that is currently being built by Fon (www.fon.com)?
Should newspapers try to last as long as the can? Should they work to put off the inevitable? Or should they take up the reins of their own future and play an active part in creating new models of business that are both lucrative and of high value to their readers?
Logically, the task will not be easy. But instead of trembling before the wave of the future, the printed media should grab a surfboard and ride its energy.
Until now, newspapers have not known what to do. They have viewed their readers not as clients that must be satisfied, but rather as people who must adapt themselves to whatever the newspaper brings that day. But, in a world centered on the struggle to attract, retain, and captivate the public, are newspapers really in a position to ignore their readers?
SAME PROBLEM, NEW CONTEXT
Newspapers find themselves before the same problem they faced sixty years ago. The difference now, however, is that the force of competition is one hundred times greater. No one has any idea how the market will evolve, but what is clear is that the panorama is changing drastically, and that there’s no going back. The quantity of news options that the public has access to on a daily basis is astounding. In a city like Madrid, the public transportation is full of free newspapers. Both in the metro and on buses, people are bombarded by a variety of different papers, some even devoted to specialized topics like sports, property, and immigration. Not to mention the presence of television screens on train platforms, evening papers, and the dozens of other media options that compete for the time and attention of the public.
And to all of the above we must add the Internet, which everyday reaches more and more people, and will surely grow exponentially once cheaper computers (for less than one hundred dollars) hit the market.
Perhaps in the future, instead of talking about a crisis for printed media, we will be remembering an antiquated form that once existed, but is now a thing of the past.
DANGER FOR DEMOCRACY
One of the problems posed by the decline of the printed media is the possible decrease in the diversity of the media, and the resultant backsliding of pluralism and democracy. The printed press plays an essential role in strengthening democracy, by not only creating opinions, but also by informing readers and shaping the way that they envision the world.
The media has, therefore, a dual responsibility: replicating the world that surrounds it, and offering the public access to a wide array of viewpoints. The major newspapers of the world are committed to the principles of good journalism, despite the conflicts these often cause within their decision-making bodies. Newspapers, therefore, must be constantly vigilant against bias and subjectivity.
ADAPT OR DIE
The printed media should adapt to new technologies for commercial and market reasons, and it should also strive to uphold a greater goal: the propagation of the liberty of expression, the active participation of the citizenry, and the development of society through the education of its audiences. Newspapers that do not uphold good journalistic standards, and make it impossible for their readers to judge the coherence and veracity of their contents are committing a serious error. Audiences are becoming better and better informed and are now able to directly compare the sources of information that newspapers use.
If newspapers want to avoid extinction, they should pay more attention to new tendencies. One such movement is here at their disposition (done before Google bought the video website YouTube).
The printed media can’t say that it wasn’t warned.