With advent of the internet, there is a significant decline in the consumption of print media products. Newspapers have shifted focus to digital media with even large dailies embracing the internet and smartphone bandwagon. Scholars attribute this to improved accessibility of news — thanks again to the internet and more affordable hand-held devices.
But it’s not all gloom and doom; there are notable success stories from India and China. Internet penetration in the two Asian giants is relatively high yet print media readership is steadily on the rise.
These are among the few countries where print journalism not only sustains itself but is also on a growth trajectory. This is attributed to cultural proclivities and preferences as many readers, especially the middle-aged, still prefer newspapers.
The conversation of online media overrunning print media in the short term did not start yesterday. For nearly half a century, predictions of the disappearance of newspapers have been rife. The fear of losing print media began with the 1940s arrival of the radio and television. The number of daily papers has steadily decreased since, although an equally large number have come up.
Daily newspapers have tried to change with the times by developing websites of their own but that has also, in some way, contributed to the decline in their print readership. Come to think of it: When newspaper editors put all their content online for free, what would entice readers to buy their print versions?
The best way, perhaps, is to place just bits and pieces of the stories online to guide readers to the print version of the newspaper. Or who would spend money on the same product in another form, especially during these hard economic times?
Some African newspapers have had a hold on their readership for years in spite of the internet. Their excellent packaging with easy-to-read content and visually enhanced layout is credited for the numbers.
But the unfettered access to the internet by virtually every ‘journalist’ has its flipside and seemingly works well for the print media. Such writers have largely been purveyors of fake news.
The basic tenets of publishing are objectivity, focus, credibility and ownership of what finally goes to press. Your overall success as a newspaper publisher should be measured against the number of readers who would protest were you to remain off the stands for a day because of your tantalising content. Once you have nurtured a loyal audience, you would care less about the alternatives.
An author’s reputation largely determines whether a reader in a bookshop will pick a particular title or not. It is cultivated over time.
The salient question that publishers, particularly of newspapers, ought to ask themselves is, why do they publish and for whom? A discerning publisher should have their finger on the pulse of the readership, to pick out signs of changing tastes, tides and time.
For instance, a publisher ought to acknowledge that the younger generation is attracted more to form rather than content. That could explain why videos and audios have become an important ingredient in the packaging of online content.
In this day and age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) collecting data from individuals, to determine how to tweak house style and news flavour is as easy as a pie.
Is sensationalism the appeal to ride on to attract numbers? Is reporting political controversy the ideal bait? If so, might news publishers be elevating politicians to heights that are messing up their egos? Since advertising leverages editorial content, how best can we balance the two? Such are the questions that should bother a publisher.
Back to the Internet. To what extent does online news content inspire trust in this era of runaway fake news and all manner of vile content? How can publishers nurture readers’ trust in such muddied waters?
Credible news from reputable sources is, unfortunately, viewed as expensive and bitter to the readership ‘palates’ of young, restless online content consumers who prefer feeding on salacious, flashy but shallow news.
Another area of concern is the cost of consuming news. Many mistakenly think online content is competitively priced, not considering their spending on bundles. Reading an entire newspaper online, you may get shocked that it might cost more money.
Journalism takes time to explain stories whilst providing multiple perspectives. Social media is the quick spaghetti alternative to a five-course meal. Snippets found in online publications will, certainly, not quench the thirst of a mind yearning for knowledge and information.
By: Mr Edward Mwasi, the current CEO, Kenya Yearbook Editorial Board. firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter – @edwardmwasi
Article as printed and published by the Nation Media Group on July 04, 2020