Vive Le Journal, Le Journal Est Mort
Today’s Inquirer editorial talks about the “last newspaper boom” in Asia, and it kind of gets me thinking – again – about a thought that has been brewing in my head for the past few months: the “death” of the newspaper. In stream of thought form.
Is it the death of the newspaper and media institutions? Have we entered the age of citizen journalism? Is traditional media experiencing its last gasps? Believe the hype if you will, but for everything wrong I said about traditional media, I’m not counting on its death just yet.
The idea is that media outfits like newspapers are businesses, and in a time of economic crisis, businesses flounder. Newspaper vendors on sidewalks will tell you “matumal ang benta,” and newspapers are probably concerned about bloggers like myself “taking over” readers. It seems that more and more people are turning to blogs for information, and very probably, traditional media views new media as a threat to its existence. Rather than look at this as a clash of the titans and of the “victory” of blogging, I’d like to take a more detached view of the matter.
I don’t buy into the idea of the “death of newspapers.” Newspapers will change, but they will not be crushed under the mighty heel of bloggers. More than that, I do not think the proliferation of Web content is responsible for “killing” the newspaper, or that the blog is the “death knell” to traditional media. The newspaper will not die; it will change, but it will not die.
Here’s why… hey, that rhymed.
I used to work for a small community newspaper, and I’ve seen small independent newspaper outfits close during my day. Journalism may be a noble profession, but it’s still a business at the end of the day. Everything about a newspaper is defined by competition: beats, scoops, coverage, right down to the newsstands. I like to believe that there’s even competition and business in the choice of newspapers used for packing material and wrapping tinapa, but that’s just me.
Even the most impassioned “anti-mainstream-media” blogger out there would agree with me that newspapers do two things extremely well, compared to blogging:
- Assembling information. All information is important in the blogosphere, and that information is weeded out by readers who also blog. In traditional media, it doesn’t work that way; some information is more important than others, and more important information gets to the paper or to the program. Blogs assemble information in terms of aggregates of different personal interests. Traditional media assembles information in terms of what is relevant and what sells.
- Distributing information. For information to be distributed in blogs, you have to have a knowledge in how it works, you have to build links, you have to do SEO, and you have to have the technical skills necessary to create a network of readers limited by your commitments toward and knowledge of the technicalities. While there are a lot of technicalities in newspapers, it’s basically an issue of having the money to run a newspaper, getting the story, publishing the paper, and selling it to the public.
SIDENOTE: Let’s get to this “MSM-versus New Media” debate for a second. Say what you will about the biases, foibles and failures of traditional media, but it is still the closest we have to keeping the public informed; it is the closest we have to an objective source of information. To say that blogging has “taken over,” and to say that blogs are now making the rounds of coffee-shop talk, is hubris and boonkaka. Hits mean absolutely nothing, and if they do, they represent a very small fraction of public opinion formed through the Internet (heck, you can form a lot of public opinion watching Internet porn). If that were true (which it isn’t), I might as well buy into the hubris of Google Analytics and site rating websites, and proclaim myself to be the biggest Filipino blogger in Lithuania. Rantage and blogger-bashing of that sort, though, can wait for another day (or maybe later, if I feel like it). At the end of the day, I’m still a blogger.
The way I see it, newspapers will not “die;” rather, newspapers will change. There is no “killing” the newspaper like a David vs. Goliath story, The success/survival of newspapers, in my view, lies on keeping them small, and maintaining a healthy (if not delicate) balance between advertising, content, public trust, and profitability. Now that publishers and investors are having second thoughts about keeping a newspaper around.
How do you go about making newspapers? How do you go about building a niche newspaper? Here’s my idea:
- Fewer pages. Fewer pages mean less expense for both publishers and readers. The success of small newspapers and tabloids on the market should be evident to broadsheet publishers; people read newspapers to get the gist of the news they missed out on the six o’clock telecast or on blogs. This results in concise, cost-effective coverage and distribution. There’s also the added benefit of a smaller, pithier newspaper that people won’t have second thoughts to buy or pay a subscription to.
- Orienting the content. Newspapers that tackle about everything talk about nothing. It’s sort of magazine-like (or I might as well be talking about making magazines cheaper), but people read only so much of a newspaper. With having only so much to read, the rest of the paper is either thrown away or not read at all. A pithy paper that talks about news stories oriented towards a particular market will sell more in that market, making it more profitable. At the very least, competition will no longer be spread over a reader base that cannot be managed at all. Oriented content not only manages the paper better and directs advertising, but it also manages a loyal audience whose buying habits it would be more in control of. The trajectory of the paper, as well as its projected readership, should be clearly defined in the newsroom, where all stories are written for a target audience.
- Back-to-basics journalism. For me, bad sales is caused by bad journalism. Any blogger knows that if you develop bad content, you won’t attract the link-love and you won’t build a reputation. The same is true for print journalism; if you develop the habit of making haphazard content, whether you’re a daily or a weekly, you cannot build the credibility necessary for you to build a new audience, and to sustain an audience.
As you can see, my (admittedly haphazard and grossly misinformed) plan is nothing more than a synthesis of the strategies applied by both traditional media and new media, and nothing more than things taught in the theory and practice of journalism. It’s a no-brainer, but rather than blame each other for each other’s misfortunes, the strategy for survival could be one of co-existence and co-dependence, not one dying on another and one “taking over.” Whether or not a newspaper will take these ideas into consideration is none of my business and out of my control, but I think at least one newspaper will turn up a profit and save a few jobs here and there if the Marocharim Plan for Saving the Newspaper At Least For Now is considered.
As a blogger and as a one-time/meantime journalist, I want traditional media to succeed; many of my own blog entries, as well as my own opinions, are in great part due shaped by traditional media. Besides, I’ve always had this pipe dream of working for a newspaper. I think that the success of traditional media in these trying times is crucial, not only for the sake of journalists and bloggers, but also for the sake of a free society that’s in great part defined by an informed public.