Report sees a bleak future for Canadian print newspapers and local television stations
But are report’s worries about the future of news itself justified, does the loss of print newspapers really mean that Canadians will be less informed in the future?
The journalism website for the Poynter Institute earlier to day posted a story on the recent study released on Canadian media. Rick Edmonds reports on many of the points made in the report titled Canada’s Digital Divides from Communications Management Inc. and I would certainly recommend reading his story on the report.
I would simply like to point out some of the report’s conclusion for TNM readers. The report’s first two will certainly get your attention:
And it is also likely that their transition to online digital formats will not match their
current scope in print.
Of course, by saying “few” the report’s author hedges their bet a bit, don’t they? And by saying there “might” not be any local TV stations, the authors again give themselves an out.
But once they have gotten your attention, the report moves on to the numbers which show the bleak state of Canadian newspapers, and which support the author’s conclusions. The most obvious is the decline in readership of newspapers compared to households. For newspapers, household penetration was by far the most important sales point ad sales staffs had to offer its customers. That so many households today no longer receive a newspaper is, indeed, sad. But it is also predictable, as newspaper companies have stopped using neighborhood youngsters to deliver the paper.
For the authors of the report, they see a straight line decline in Canadian newspaper readership.
Canada’s daily newspapers now are engaged in a 10-year race against time and technology to develop an online business model that will enable them to preserve their brands without print editions, and – even more difficult – to try to develop new kinds of economic bundles (or other kinds of economic arrangements) that will enable their online presence to maintain their current journalistic scope.
I think their arguments for the complete collapse of local television is a bit weaker. The argument is that television has gone through several stages, and we are now is a situation where local television cannot maintain its profitability.
As the television industry went through these stages, the original form of television delivery in Canada – over-the-air broadcast television – became a much less profitable business, and now finds itself, overall, in a money-losing situation. And, not only has broadcast television’s share of total television revenue declined significantly, all television advertising now is under pressure from Internet-delivered advertising.
In fact, in the end they really don’t make that argument at all, but only that television will be delivered via the Internet.
As noted above, this does not mean that there will be less television, or less watching of television. But it does mean that the industrial organization of the television industry will have changed in fundamental ways – how we receive programs, how we pay for those programs, how those programs are financed, and how those programs are distributed.
What I think is missing here is the growth of local Internet-based news options. While many are not commercial in nature, a few efforts at commercializing digital local media have been tried, though a large number of them have failed. We are not just talking about efforts such as AOL’s Patch, but also efforts in places like Ann Arbor and elsewhere, where former newspaper journalists have launched their own web-only news outlets.
Internet-based television opens up the possibility that there may be more local TV, not less. Like newspaper printing and delivery, the costs barriers to a broadcast station are too high and too limited for their to be many outlets. But the Internet changes that. Will these be commercial ventures, or merely individual developers of TV apps as seen inside the Roku app store? That is hard to say, but there continues to be new efforts to monetize apps that drive small audience. Just as Google pays bloggers, there may be ad revenue opportunities for local digital broadcasters, as well.
What is obvious, is that we are moving faster and faster towards a digital future, yet have not managed to develop the business models that will make future digital alternatives succeed. The report on Canadian media is more concerned, however, with the impact on journalism, claiming that as we move from newspapers and local broadcast to Internet-based media, the price that will be paid will be the loss of accuracy and thoroughness. I find that condescending, especially when thinking about the failures of the traditional media is covering issues such as war and politics.
From the perspective of print and local television journalists, the idea of a world without newspapers or local TV stations sounds like the end of their profession. But that is an odd point of view seeing as so many journalists have successfully moved from print to digital news outlets. John Paczkowski is typical of the new breed of journalists – working for the San Jose Mercury News from 1999 to 2007; then moving to AllThingsD.com, the online tech site of The Wall Street Journal; to now working as Managing Editor, BuzzFeed San Francisco.
I suppose I am just not as pessimistic about the future of journalism as I am about the future of many journalists. In an age of transition, many who are tied to products that may disappear forever are unlikely to find similar positions in new businesses, certainly not ones that pay as well as traditional media has.
I know this myself, as a former publisher of B2B magazines I know that there are very few openings for those of us who are no longer in the print business. I also know that the newspaper business is so insular, and jobs so short in supply, that I will never again work in newspaper company, even if it is in a position writing about digital media or leading digital media efforts. Those jobs simply don’t exist. It’s tough to know that my magazine and newspaper days are over – at least as far as print is concerned.
But saying that journalism itself will suffer because of the loss of the print newspaper and local broadcast outlet feels wrong – like saying that the water disappears when the cup develops a hole. It doesn’t, it’s just no longer in the cup.