Views / Opinion

On the future of the newspaper inudstry: If, and when printed news dies

With so much free information available online, the survival of print media is in doubt. We tapped two veteran newsmen for their views on the future of news.

"I think newspaper readership is strongest among people who are soon going to be dead."

Newspapers are built on a business model that’s no longer sustainable. It’s not that some people don’t prefer newspapers. People who work for them think they’re irreplaceable. It’s that they can’t afford to print and distribute them. Newspapers have failed in Canada and the U.S., and I expect that to continue and accelerate. I think there will always be a New York Times print newspaper. But for a Canadian newspaper in any big city, I’d say expecting it to survive 25 years would be optimistic.

There are two problems: Declining readership and declining advertising. When the Internet came along, newspapers really underestimated it. If they all got together, they could have become the biggest classified advertiser on the Internet. But they let it go, and the classifieds that used to be 20 or 30 pages are now one or two. It’s all online.
I think newspaper readership is strongest among people who are soon going to be dead. In the next 20 or 25 years, readership is going into the ground. Literally.  

Where young people go for their information has been revolutionized by the Internet.

They’re not going to suddenly develop a newspaper habit. I don’t think the newspapers that have migrated to the web are in tune enough with younger readers. So the future of news is really in specialized websites like iPolitics. Among younger people it’s “Why should I trust some old white guy to filter my news for me?”
Something very important will be lost. You have to tell the web what you’re looking for.

But when you’re reading the paper, you can turn the page and see something you never thought of being interested in.  

We’ve already seen steps towards newspapers only existing online or printing once a week — those are no longer daily newspapers.  

If newspapers continue, they will be free ones like Metro. People always gravitate to something that’s free. 

-- John Gordon Miller, author, Yesterday’s News: Why Canada’s Daily Newspapers are Failing Us

"The majority of the content people want is made in newsrooms. Produce good information, and the rest will take care of itself."

Print news is more responsible, easily accessible and tactile. Opening a newspaper is like smelling fresh air. You turn the page and all your senses come alive. It’s a new fount of knowledge with every page turned.  

Print is part of us. If all somebody did was read one newspaper front to back every day, they’d be the smartest person in the room.

A newspaper has no “Sorry, this browser’s out of date,” and no message saying “Sorry, this plug-in’s not working.” I know when I turn a page, I get a guaranteed, instant surprise.  

The majority of the information people want to read is produced in newsrooms. The good content you read on the Internet is stolen and ripped off and repurposed by other entities. I tell young journalists, don’t worry about the platform. Chase the content. Produce good information, and the rest will take care of itself.

Print news has a foreseeable shelf life. Is it declining? Perhaps parts of it are. What’s really going on is an advertising change. If the advertising model was as robust as it was 20 years ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.  

I hope people want to pay for news. We provide an incredible and important service in addition to entertainment and comfort and knowledge.

The problem is that we’ve raised a generation of people who have been told they don’t have to pay for their media in any form. Our sin, as newspapers, was coming late to that party. The web came along and we threw all our content on it. It was like giving everybody free beer. And after three free beers we said, “Hey, now you’ve got to pay for your beer.” I don’t think so.

Many people (in the news business) are struggling. There’s no doubt we’re going through some structural change. But people will get to a point where they do see value in what the news industry produces. And at least some people will pay for that.   

-- Jim Poling, Managing Editor, the Hamilton Spectator

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