A Tale of Two Media - Battle for Survival
Anya Mollenhauer reaches for the newspaper as she heads out of her home on a sunny morning in the U.S. state of Kentucky. Eight thousand miles away in New Delhi, India, Akshita Sood skims through the paper as she’s about to call it a night. Both barely realize the sweeping trends emerging in their respective newspaper industries.
In two giant democracies worlds apart, the future of news is being written today as these industries are transforming themselves.
In India, with its rising literacy rate and a growing middle class hungry for news, circulation is holding stable, while it’s dropping in the United States as people look to smartphones and social media for news.
In both places, online news has established a steady base, but is more definitive and aggressive in the United States, where it seems to be stealing away a large portion of print consumers.
The stakes are high. Media experts agree that newspapers play a vital role in the success of a democracy. American playwright Arthur Miller says a good newspaper is a nation talking to itself.
“To be a person in society, you need to know what’s going on,” Mollenhauer said. A subscriber to The Wall Street Journal online, she reads about ten articles a day. She prefers news on her laptop or cell phone, but believes it is important to be aware of international and national news.
Sood believes in reading the newspaper to gain insight into society. “Everyone reads the paper, be it in the urban or rural areas. It’s the nation’s voice to the masses, and as a person in the largest democracy in the world, it’s a means to unify a society and I also want in”.
Experts say news will remain relevant even as the news business transforms.
“It’s just how you look at the world,” Judy Clabes, the owner of Kentucky Forward, an online only newspaper, said. “Things change…” Ultimately, experts say, the desire to know will override changes in the way people consume information.
“We need to read news if we want to make sense of the world around us,” said Nainy Sahani, BBC writer based in Mumbai. “It’s just as simple as that. If you want to live your life isolated, away from all that is exciting, new, hopeful or even dangerous - maybe news is not for you. But if you want to gain perspective, indulge, co-create and interact with the world and its citizens - news is the first foundation stone for such a life.”
Print circulation drops in the U.S.
The United States led the way in laying the foundations of journalism. To the nation’s founding fathers, one of the most significant issues was freedom of speech.
A newspaper in display in Kentucky USA
U.S. newspaper readership exploded during the 1940s and 50s and continued to grow throughout the 1900s. Between 1940 and 1973, total daily newspaper circulation rose consistently from a yearly total of 41 million to 63 million, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
But U.S. circulation began declining in1987, and in 2012 stood at 44.4 million – its lowest point since 1945, when population was below 151 million barely a third of what it is today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2010, the U.S. population was nearing 308 million.
When economic crisis hit the United States in 2008, it hit the newspaper industry hard.
David Thompson, director of the Kentucky Press Association, said the newspaper industry in Kentucky is stabilizing. “It may not have recovered fully to what print was,” he said. “But it’s still an encouragement.”
Still, he noted, other states have not seen the same upswing.
One reason for the decline of print is the shift toward online media.
“I subscribe to the Wall Street Journal online,” said Mollenhauer, adding that she rarely reads a print newspaper. “It gives you, like, business news, and also there’s more entertaining news, and also you can get your headlines.”
“I get the notifications, like, on my phone, so I read those whenever important stuff is happening,” said Carlee Schwartz, a student at the University of Kentucky who also reads the Wall Street Journal. She reads various online news sources, but only picks up an actual newspaper about once a year.
In this changing climate, newspapers must find a way to be financially sustainable. One way that many newspapers and news sources are staying relevant is through localization. Focusing on a close-knit community lets news organizations hone in on an environment that cannot be found anywhere else. Metro newspapers are increasingly digging into their local communities for news, phasing out national and international news. Even online-only sites have a community focus. Kentucky Forward, an online only newspaper was created with the intent to bring the idea of community journalism to the internet.
“We care about Kentucky,” Clabes said. “We want to be very Kentucky-focused.”
Kentucky Forward is in its infancy, and its office differs significantly from a typical busy newsroom. A small staff spends most of the afternoon out of the office covering stories, while editors sit quietly at their desks. The owner’s grandchildren play in the back.
Freelance reporters and columnists allow the news website to publish high-quality articles and satisfy demand without straining its resources. Specializing in local news also allows the small staff to be successful.
One reason for the push towards local news is that American audiences realize they can find national and international news elsewhere. With news websites like the New York Times and The Washington Post easily accessible, most metro dailies do not need to cover this news anymore.
A power jacket ad in Indian newspaper
“In the past, there were fewer sources of news, and newspapers were seen as a place to get a little bit of everything,” said Neil Budde, executive editor at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. But this is not the case anymore. With news readily available everywhere, newspapers need to need to focus on what they can do well, he adds. “We need to be very locally focused.”
Developing technologies and changing demands from consumers are forcing journalists to reevaluate the way they look at news. Traditional news values such as credibility, good reporting and good writing will remain important, experts said, but it is clear that a major shift in the newspaper business model is currently underway.
“It’s (online) clearly the way of the future,” said Marcus Green, online news reporter for Louisville, Kentucky TV Station WDRB-41, said. “But the news business has changed so dramatically in the past few years…all of the past models have changed and are changing.”
India’s print industry remains strong
As India’s middle class has grown in the past few decades, the newspaper industry has grown along with it.
Unlike in the United States, Indian newspapers remain attractive for advertisers. The Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2011 says India is one of the world’s largest newspaper markets, with more than 107 million copies circulated daily, accounting for more than one in five dailies across the world. The Times of India is the largest English-language paper in the world, despite the fact that English is not India’s mother tongue.
India’s rising economy also fuels its newspaper industry. In urban India, news websites are fast becoming sources of information, while in smaller cities, newspapers are the dominant player, said Tarun Upadhyay, a Hindustan Times journalist based in Jammu.
But as the penetration of online media grows, many experts believe the newspaper industry should tread carefully. According to the Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2013, the recorded growth of print media was 7.3 percent, while digital advertising grew at 40.9 percent. India has to wake up to the importance of this fifth estate -- the electronic dissemination of the news, said Suresh Mishra, a former journalist with the Indian Express.
Paolo Hooke, researcher at the University of Sydney, wrote a paper examining how India has moved its content heavily towards entertainment, sports, light news and celebrity journalism. This is a way to attract the younger people who might otherwise move away from traditional media. India will have the world’s youngest population in 2020 – with 55 percent of residents younger than 25, with shorter attention spans and the habit of consuming news on digital devices on the go. “How they consume news will determine which news platforms thrive,” said Devadas Rajaraman, new media professor at the Asian College of Journalism.
Some changes are already visible in the popular national dailies. The Times of India started Alive, augmented reality news applications where readers can scan over a news photo with a mobile phone and see the whole video story. Rajaraman said these efforts are good for the future of print.
Online media brings change
Online news is a growing part of consumers’ media diets in both India and America.
Most newspapers have online counterparts, which are becoming not only an asset but a necessity. These sites use social media, video and other multimedia technology to boost readership and tell stories in new ways.
Larger metropolitan newspapers in America seem to be fully embracing the online realm of news, although often with “pay-wall” systems that charge readers a subscription fee for online content. In India, most online content is free.
The online editions of newspapers in India are yet to explore profitable options, yet they continue investing in order to beat competition.
“With all the major newspapers having online editions, they have to compete with news agencies to break news at fast speed and also have to provide for information on podcasts and applications,” said Upadhyay.
The NY Times Building in NY
Kentucky’s Courier-Journal has experienced circulation decline and a loss of ad dollars, but Budde said online news reaches a wide audience, and more people can interact with it. “Online news also gives writers the option to constantly update stories,” Budde said.
The use of metrics measuring what viewers are reading and looking at allows editors and reporters to find out what content is engaging readers. This can motivate reporters to create better content.
Online media enables journalists to give the audience what it wants and lowers the barrier between reader and writer. But it has also pushed journalists to innovate in order to survive.
Some benefits to publishing online include unlimited space, the ability to update a story, and a rolling deadline.
Green, like many journalists these days, is constantly cross-promoting his content online through social media.
“We’re not really counting on people to come to the website,” he said. “I don’t know, but I believe that the right approach is to bombard the hell out of social media.”
Rajaraman feels Facebook and Twitter offer serious opportunities for journalists. “Facebook and Twitter are not ‘social networking’ platforms alone anymore. They are serious publishing platforms.”
Harman Shera, a resident of New Delhi, prefers to get his share of news from social media websites. “I can filter the kind of news I want, and Twitter gives you the option to interact directly with your news giver.”
Ultimately, many experts say, how newspapers evolve will depend largely on advertising.
“Advertisers are all about putting their money where they’re going to be able to reach the most eyeballs,” explained Beth Barnes, director of the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications. “They perceive newspapers as having smaller audiences than before, and older audiences than before, (and) they have been looking for other places to put their money instead.”
In India, print newspapers are still considered the best way to reach the fresh urban middle class, with its newly acquired spending power. According to the Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2013, print in India continues to be the largest beneficiary of advertising accounting, for 46 per cent of the advertising spending across all media sectors.
The same was once true in the United States – but no longer.
“They were the number one media for advertising spending. I don’t even know if they are number three anymore,” Barnes said.
Segments of the American print industry that have maintained their advertising base are small local newspapers, or narrowly-focused newspapers. This has led newspapers to try “branding” by focusing on a niche market or local community.
“Smaller market papers, community weeklies, twice weeklies for the most part are doing well, at least in Kentucky,” Barnes said. “There’s not another place for advertisers to put their messages.”
As successful as the online news industry has been, online advertising has not taken hold strongly in either India or the United States. This is a challenge for media companies as well as advertisers, although experts say advertisers will move to online platforms as customers do.
Barnes said audience fragmentation – when audiences are concentrated across print and online – leads advertisers to try and reach all media platforms. But because online advertising costs are economically more viable to advertisers, news organizations are still trying to figure out the best way to make money.
When it comes to advertising revenue, print is still king, said Barnes. While news has gone online, advertising still is not profitable there. So newspapers in both countries face an uncertain future.
Rajaraman predicts the newspaper industry will remain relevant, but perhaps as a part of much larger multimedia scene.
Clabes believes it is important for traditional media to change with the times while upholding traditional values. One thing is certain, she says: “We’re always going to need journalists if we want to be in a free society... I don’t care what medium it is, good journalists can make the most of it.”
Today’s journalists need new skills
Being a reporter today no longer just means covering and writing stories. It may also mean shooting and editing video and photos, blogging from a beat and become an expert user of social media.
The evolution of the news industry demands that reporters constantly adapt and pursue new skills. As new media forms rise in both India and the United States, media experts say it’s extremely important for journalists today to learn a diverse set of multimedia skills.
Newspapers are still the most awaited thing in India every morning
“Journalists working in newspapers are doing multi-tasking,” Tarun Upadhyay, a reporter at the Hindustan Times, said. “With all the major newspapers having online editions, they have to compete with news agencies to break news at fast speed and also on podcasts and apps.”
The constant, 24-hour news cycle on TV and the Internet also means that journalists must continue to pursue a breaking news story, even after they publish it.
“They have to continuously update it,” Upadhyay said. “Then they have to write more in-depth report for print edition.”
Neil Budde, executive editor of The Courier-Journal in the U.S. state of Kentucky, said he expects his staff to master a variety of media forms. Writing content for online and using social media to communicate news are only a few ways that journalists can do this. Budde emphasized video, which is one of the top forms of media for young consumers.
“We have trained all of our journalists to be good at video,” he said. Not only do they need to be able to make a video, but they need to be able to decide when that is necessary, when it is beneficial, and how to shoot in a way that will enhance the story. Reporters need to think: ‘What would make a good video?’”
Video and photographs and new media can all be used to enhance a story, but journalists need to be able to decide when and where it is appropriate or necessary.
Judy Clabes, owner and editor of the news website Kentucky Forward, compares broadcast journalists and print journalists to illustrate this point. The difference between the two, she says, is that broadcasters ask: Did the story have pictures? And if so, then it’s a good story.
“I don’t think that’s the way to define a good story,” she said. “If it’s a good story, its sill a good story. There’s no substitute for that.”
Others agreed that story still remains central to any reporter. Multimedia enhances many stories, but journalists need to remember that the story is what is important.
“The foremost and prerequisite requirement of being a journalist is to have knowledge and combine it with his or her insight to present all facets of the issues,” Upadhyay said. “It’s this that will establish him or her as a credible journalist. And these are bench marks of major reputed national and international newspapers, news agencies, news channels and magazines.”
“We use as many tools from our tool box as we can,” Clabes said. “We can’t use any of them if we don’t have a good story to start with.”
(Posted on 28-06-2014)