Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Uncertain Future of Print Journalism

By Jaclyn Dipasquale

With the continued advances in technology and increased options of news outlets, print journalism has been faced with a grim reality; it is no longer the staple society automatically turns to for news and information. New electronic devices like tablets and smart phones offer alternative options for news, like apps and access to online publications, making it a quicker and more efficient choice for news-hungry patrons. Thus, the opinion has emerged that print publications will not be able to compete with their technological opponents and eventually die out.

As a journalism student at the University of Missouri, I have heard many varying opinions regarding the future of print publications. As a student magazine emphasis area, I obviously believe that although print will face its obstacles with the Internet and news apps, it will ultimately survive. My opinion was reinforced when we arrived at the office of Le Monde in Paris. Le Monde is a French daily newspaper, founded in 1944. The paper boasts a circulation of more than 331,000 and can be compared to the United States’ New York Times. Unlike the withdrawal the United States has seen with its printed publications, Le Monde continues to thrive. This may be attributed to the French lifestyle and reputation of news-hungry citizens, but I believe it is more than that. I believe it shows that despite the new technology, there is a comfort people find in reading a printed publication, which is too strong to allow publishers to completely do away with print journalism. One of our speakers, Le Monde editor Serge Michel, agreed that he too believes print will indeed survive.

Over the years print publications have seen a decrease in ad spending while online ad spending has increased dramatically. According to Newspaperdeathwatch.com, “Print advertising spending is expected to fall to $33.8 billion in 2012 from $36 billion in 2011.” Not a very reassuring statistic. Even worse, The Annenberg School at the University of Southern California predicted that only four US daily newspapers would still be in print in five years. Only time will tell if this is the case, but what we do know is that print publications will have to work hard to secure their survival.
So why is print facing such a glum future? According to sellingcommunications.com it’s simply because print has not been able to adapt to the readers needs fast enough, “Publishers have not adjusted their products and costs in line with the way people obtain information today, or the way marketers divvy up budgets. Today’s successful publishers are those who are introducing a broad range of additional products and services to meet changing reader and advertiser needs.” At the Milken Institute Global Conference in 2008, Brian Greenspun addressed this issue:

"Newspapers are 'news media' companies," said Greenspun, president of the Las Vegas Sun. "We're just witnessing how news will be delivered a little different from the past, and in an enterprise fashion." Some people will still receive their news in print with their coffee, he added, while others will expect to read it over the Internet. Publishers are working to align distribution with consumer preference, but print media, he maintained, will be around for a long time. "The future will also include integrated and stand-alone rich media, primary source materials, and community participation," Greenspun continued. "The Las Vegas Sun ceased print news years ago through a joint operating agreement with our former rival newspaper, which still prints and distributes a morning paper. This freed us to become the newspaper we wanted to be and put the capital 'J' back in journalism through investigative and in-depth reporting.”

Ladies Home Journal is another publication taking risky measures in order to adapt to the changes. It recently announced their switch to a readers produced content model, in hopes the reader participation will attract new audiences and form a better connection with its current audience. It is bold strategies such as this that will help secure a future for newspaper and magazines. Readers need a reason to choose the pricier print version of their news, as opposed to the more convenient online option. It will be up to the editors to find a way to appeal to this. Some print newspapers such as The New York Times offers its subscribers a free magazine. Le Monde recently added a magazine as well. Others are using social media tools such as Twitter to their advantage, posting headlines and stirring up interest. The New York Times twitter account has more than 280,000 followers. Many other publications the Chicago Tribune have followed suit.

Print publications cannot ignore the power of the internet and in order to survive they will need to jump on the bandwagon. The majority of print publishers have already realized this and already have hopped on. Almost every leading newspaper or magazine now has an online version available to their readers. However, in order to keep all content from being consumed online, publishers have been offering incentives to buy the print version. At Le Monde, the online content is only a limited version of what they publish in their print version. Therefore, if readers want full access they will be forced to buy one from a local newsstand. Another technique magazines have been using for years is the lure of discounted issues with a subscription. Everyone’s seen those irritating little cards that fall out of your magazine, requesting your address and a financial commitment. Those little cards are the reason Allure magazine arrives at my door every month. Print will need to find innovative and effective marketing techniques.

I don’t believe the print industry will ever full recover from the damage the web has brought upon them. However, I do think print will make it. Personally, I see print becoming a luxury item. Most of the news will be consumed through television, the web or on your iPad, yet every once in a while people will allow themselves to splurge on the print version because the reading experience is one-of-a-kind and cannot be matched by something read off of a computer or tablet screen.

Or at least for the sake of my job, I truly hope print does make it. But like I said earlier, the road won’t be easy and it will take a lot of creativity and effort to keep the industry print alive. So to put it simply, for print it’s adapt or die.


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