“Sorry, I am afraid there is no hope, it is terminal.” These words could easily be used with a quick glance at the current print-newspaper market that we have taken for granted for so long.
When thinking about the decline of sales and investment in newspapers, in the Western world at least, the outlook is bleak. If it isn’t the decline in readers that is killing this institution, it is the withdrawal of funds from advertisers who are noticing the dropping numbers and are looking to the Internet for cost-cutting measures.
Getting down to the bare facts, the OECD conducted a study that has shown that between 2007-2009, newspaper circulation in the US dropped by 30 percent. The UK was close behind with a 25 percent drop. Effectively, the study shows that on a global scale, the newspaper market has indeed been shrinking since 2008.
Take this island for example. The Jeju Weekly is the only English newspaper here and, despite the obvious quality that is offered, healthy competition could only be a positive thing. Now imagine this situation in your homeland, where the native language is English. One choice of paper could be all that remains with the scariest thing being that this situation is a very real possibility in the future. The “last man on earth” is a light-hearted situation that we often joke or discuss with no real end in sight. To talk about being this last person can be entertaining, thinking about what you would do or how you would live. In reality, however, we know that fun and enjoyment in such a world would be very short-lived. Like this “last man” scenario, we often joke about things that we expect will not affect us which is why I find joking about the state of newspapers so difficult to do.
Can you honestly argue that online news offers the same experience as a printed newspaper? Obviously the Internet is beneficial for providing us with instant updates on breaking news. The truth is that when reading anything on a PC or laptop, we tend to scan through rather than to read and appreciate every word. Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger, Norway, suggests that because online text is scrolling up and down the screen and lacks physical dimension, we are not as likely to feel as comfortable when attempting to engage with what we are reading. For me, this leads to the argument that, without us realizing it, a newspaper makes us more knowledgeable about topical issues than the Internet can.
If you are like me, you will enjoy sitting down either at breakfast or at lunchtime with some cereal, a sandwich or a coffee and just reading a quality newspaper from cover to cover. This sort of leisurely activity can take up to an hour and it’s a relaxing experience. Now can you see yourself sitting in front a computer for a hour purely reading news stories? I think not. And even if you tried this, wouldn’t the eye strain and the constant need to scroll and click on links be a burden that would not allow the chance to relax completely?
Allow me to put it another way, if the one thing you enjoyed on a cold winter evening was to sit in front of an open fire with the heat from the real flames warming your face, would you then trade this in for an electric fire with LED flames and a heat setting that you can turn up or down? Of course this would be safer, more efficient, and would require less maintenance but in the back of your mind you would not be able to forget those flames of the past.
Of course, if aliens came down from space and observed both our tendency to read newspapers versus the access to up-to-date breaking news online, they would think we were mad not to have halted the printed paper before now. I believe the very fact that it is still going, albeit with a drop in numbers, shows how unpredictable human nature can be and this is something that will give me a slight grin of pride when I settle down with the paper this evening.
I implore you, don’t switch to the electric fire and allow the printed newspaper to become the flames of the past. I am not arguing for the resistance of these new technologies but merely the combination of both in order to preserve this media form for future generations.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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