‘Saving’ newspapers not a strategy

They’re different. Or we are. But a new report from the Pew Centre of Research highlights an indisputable global challenge.

Society wants news but it doesn’t want to pay for it. So, whose challenge is that exactly? Theirs? Ours? Or both?

According to Pew, when people try to get their news for free from the internet, 80 percent of it comes from traditional media.

That content is financed by the classic business model now under stress from the free-content approach newspapers have embraced for 15 years.

If you take this scenario to its extreme point, the 80 percent of content enjoyed for free will eventually disappear.

That is too simplistic as other factors exist. Pew’s findings highlight why newspapers need to consider charging for their content, though this is by no means a full-proof strategy.

If I’ve heard one person say, “I don’t buy a newspaper anymore, I just read it for free online”, I’ve heard that 100 times or more. The tone of voice often suggests, “if you’re crazy enough to give this away for nothing, then I’ll take it – thanks”.

So where does all this lead us.

Well, this is where it doesn’t lead us – to emotional swings between the need to “save the print product” and “digital is the future”.

When I first came to PANPA in mid-2008, newspaper management seemed desperate to “save” the newspaper.

Thank goodness, that emotion has calmed.

You can’t save a newspaper; you can only make it commercially viable and relevant to its audience.

“Saving” has nothing to do with it.

Leaders of this industry need to see the entire picture – because their future relies on a balanced portfolio of products that command reasonably diverse streams of revenue that must cope with the ebb and flow with economic trends.

If Pew’s research told us anything, it was that print journalism is still the most important contributor to news regardless of publishing platform. You had to be under a rock to miss that.

To be successful on a digital platform right now, however, you’re going to need your newspaper firing on all cylinders.

That’s the zen of newspapers today.

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