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Reinventing Print Journalism

By on November 9, 2011

Looking at news outfits today, we wouldn’t need to consult an oracle to know how much has changed. Everything seems to be in chaos. Even in this state, the news room has shrunk further. This can be attributed to the force of creative destruction which has had us to cannibalize our best offerings.

The revelation now is that the newsroom/news media outfits have shrunk further with workers held hostage by long month of unpaid salaries, some converted to freelance journalists overnight and struck by the immense force of the web and use of web technologies 2.0. The newspaper business might finally be on the exit door. As news of layoffs, bankruptcies, and closings continue, hope just seems dim.

Globally, print circulations fall abysmally and meagre online advertising rates continue, news media outfits look at their balance sheet with a broken hope. But hope might lie in her ability to build their own tablets apps with the challenge of monetizing her readership. Some of the news apps are Livestand, a news app launched this week by Yahoo!, Zite, bought recently by CNN; Editions, created by AOL; and Flipboard, which Google tried to buy last year.

For a technology consuming nation like ours that is an uphill task: affordability and technical capacity and the number of readers who will make the switch compounds the whole thing. The Economist recent piece on this revealed that readers are somewhat readier to pay for subscriptions on tablet computers.

Historically, papers have survived radio and television. It is argued that if it has then this one challenge will pass. But even at that, there was a casualty: afternoon newspapers. Also, experts in the field have argued that papers mightn’t have been able to compete with television in terms of speed, but they have had the edge: in-depth news coverage that TV news couldn’t provide.

This has been corroborated by a veteran, Ray Ekpu, the chief executive officer of Newswatch Magazine and former President of Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN). He argued that what actually affected “buyership” of newspapers and magazines is not necessarily access to Internet or lack of it but cover price which is a function of the economic situation of the country.

Strikingly, the World Wide Web has eroded whatever hope is left of papers survival as newspapers’ content are all free on the web with citizen journalism prevailing too.  The possibility of online ad revenue coming is few. Recent economic meltdown has worsened the situation. Also, Nigerians are reading more with these readers going online to read the morning news and visit their favourite blogs and look at by-the-minute Twitter updates.

Importantly, the quest for a new business model is the way forward for business and society’s survival. Because free press is hinged on democracy, we are definitely compelled to find a way to keep papers alive and that includes production of human talent who can play in the new world. The human talent being cut off, is such a crucial element and what we look out in the papers. Newspapers remain the best source of unbeatable in-depth news, analysis and opinion. So where do we go from here? Can we begin to charge for premium content online? Difficult.

As an instance, a journalism professor Charles Lewis is looking at new business models for serious journalism. Lewis works is on sustainable non-profit news organizations with a social mission that will provide the investigative reporting we need for a strong democracy. He notes that ProPublica, a 29-strong web-based team of investigative journalists with an annual philanthropic budget of $10m, has created a non-profit newsroom in order to preserve investigative journalism in the public interest.

Finally, our schools must begin to alter their curriculum. We have to create new coursework with emphasis on new social media forms. Providing our kids with essential digital skills to work across media platforms and in 2.0 social media is a key to helping us take the leap into the new world. Taking advantage of new business models could just be all we need to reinvent print journalism with a profit. We should reflect on the possibilities of building news apps and the potential its holds for our fragile business. As creative destruction continues, online might be the new print. But today or tomorrow demands we innovate or die.