singularity industries

"To learn and do good."

Who is killing our newspapers?

Let’s get one thing straight first: in order for an ideal democratic society to exist, we require a reliable and independent media reporting objectively on public events that help a society’s stakeholders make their own informed choices (represented by their elected government.)

“The media, however, contribute also in positive ways to the functioning of politics and public life. The media provide the setting or stage on which public life is played out, (emphasis: my own) and they continue to provide the scrutiny and critique of the players in public life that is central to the democratic process.” (Craig, G. 2004, The Media, Politics and Public Life, Allen & Unwin, pp.22 – 23)

Yes, i’m quoting from an actual book source and not a hyperlink to a recently published blog. I think this demonstrates the weight of an accredited publishing source, and not just a whim. (ironic though, that i choose a digital and free medium to publish my own thoughts.)

But regardless of the benign point I’m trying to make of which medium deserves our due attention, i hope to set the stage for a concern far more pressing, and that is the implied death of democracy that comes with the death of journalism.

And with the slow decline of the print medium, is a generation of good journalism going to die away with it? It’s under this question that I hope to frame my concerns and make some sense of what is happening around us today.

it’s disheartening when you read an article like this, and realise that a lot of good journalists are being retrenched because advertising rates are falling and newspapers cannot support their organisational structure anymore.

as consumers, i don’t think we really think much about the state of journalism.. but i’m here to make a case that journalism is a valued profession in any society. democratic at least. without good quality journalism, we can only rely on ourselves to mediate the events happening around us.

like how we’ve been praising new media for highlighting the issues that really matter on the ground, that’s what good journalism did before web2.0

but somewhere along the lines, journalism, with print, tv and radio all became bloated and i think many media companies lost the plot as they realised that mass communication went hand in hand with mass consumption. in some sense, as a society, we consumed media at an alarming rate, and that gave rise to inflated budgets, ideas and egos..

what we have today, is the mob (us) turning our backs on journalism as we find free sources of news. it’s a similar thing that happened with the record industry.. but somehow i don’t feel that bad about losing redundant label executives.

but tell me that i’m losing good journalists, and i sit up to take notice.

a vast majority of us might not care about good journalism, like some of us do not care about good music. and that scares me.. or at least makes me wonder what this future’s going to be like.

a possible future
1. journalists have to diversify in skill sets. it’s no longer enough to just be able to write, you have to start being a adept photographer, podcaster, videographer and technologist. why do i say that?

because one of a journalists’ job is to capture the spirit of the times. and sadly, you can’t just do that with words alone. if the standard of journalism is to rise above citizen journalism, to produce content that not any man on the street can recreate, the professional journalist has to function under such conditions.

2. newspapers will have smaller readerships, multiple services, stronger brand presence and perhaps independent.
Almost everything that afflicts the media today is a bloated industry, that has flourished in terms of content because of the investment. But as free content continues to take centerstage, quality content suffers.

media outlets have to regroup, reorganise and deploy resources where they matter the most. such actions will need to address the fragmenting audience that plagues every media channel because ultimately, that leads to advertising rates.

by diversifying, ad revenue can be collected from multiple sources, and also, while an audience is fragmented, they are still considered part of a larger collective that give their attention to a media channel.

ie. each channel gets less revenue, but multiple sources pay the bills. it’s only a modified revenue model.. but if you made money from TV, Radio, Web & Print.. it might change things.

This is by no means exhaustive, and I do appreciate if you can share your thoughts as well.

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Filed under: media, , , , ,

7 Responses

  1. jbarker says:

    Well… if it’s any consolation, Singapore won’t feel the effects of the death of newsprint anytime soon — STOMP is a bad excuse for citizen journalism, and whatever online news portals we have are nowhere near the same level of interactivity and freshness you have with sources from the US.

  2. Anirban says:

    Hey Brian.. I think a big part of the problem in the future will be that kids/students are growing up on online media content more than physical newspapers. In that scenario, it’s going to be a challenge to kind of ‘reintroduce’ them to traditional journalism. So I guess the point I’m trying to make is that your possible scenarios for the future would apply more to Gen X than Gen Y.

  3. brian koh says:

    @jbarker: the real question is whether the current SPH model is sustainable in these times when information is so freely available that news sources cannot afford to do their jobs anymore..

    @Anirban: Quite right. i’m sort of making a point that print journalism has to be sustainable, because it is still the most profitable way for media channels to make money. We know that online media is more rampant and easier to access, but what’s the balance between paying journalists to do a good job, and giving that content to people that want it?

  4. melvin says:

    Rightly said Brian, journalism has been reduced to anyone talking about anything anywhere. Journalism as we used to know and revere was not just about democratic freedom of speech but also about an art that revolved around checks and balances and a controlled chaos environment. I refuse to subscribe to the notion that reporting some fight on the MRT on your blog or stomp or watever, automatically give you access to join the ranks of journalists. I think a journalism lecturer/educator dies every time that happens. “Just coz you can wikipedia it doesn’t make you an expert”. The system wont be fixed until the root evil ( money) is taken out of the equation. How can free speech and editorial integrity not be tainted when the business revolves around advertising sustainability. Is it possible to return the papers to the state and fund it via taxes and article contribution? I don’t know but here’s hoping to better alternatives. Cheers

  5. brian koh says:

    Hi Melvin,

    thanks for dropping by! I echo your sentiments.. and we both seem to subscribe to a certain ‘cult of the amateur’ mindset.. that not everybody’s job is equal, especially when it comes to professions like journalism.

    i think anyone can wield social media, in good ways even, but not everyone can run a newspaper or maintain a news site that balances all the tenets of its service to the public, its stakeholders and even compelling content for the masses.

    i like your blog! i’ll link you aye?

  6. Aaron Koh says:

    This blog post http://www.charlesarthur.com/blog/?p=1101 sums it up for the cause of the fate of newspapers -> Oversupply of news!

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