IFRA Trend Report for May 2008
BusinessIn Britain, share prices have been tumbling in newspaper publishing houses such as the Daily Mail & General Trust, Trinity Mirror, and Johnston Press. Pearson, which owns the Financial Times, faces the same problem. The Guardian and The Observer are no longer profitable. Newspaper companies across Europe and North America – Schibsted, Metro International, Tribune and the New York Times included – are facing hard times. The only way out, it seems, is to attract eyeballs sufficient to generate online advertising revenues.
At a time when the industry, especially in the developed world, is going through troubled times, News International’s opening of the world’s largest printing plant for U.K. newspapers near London might come as a bit of a surprise. The plant, which is now operational, is reported to be the size of 23 football fields!
Surely, it is not a good time to seek buyers for newspapers, except perhaps for small newspapers. However, poor advertising incomes have now forced the Seattle Times to look for buyers for its Maine newspapers. With the American economy heading towards a recession, online competition eating into the business, and a severe resource crunch, hundreds of journalists in the country have lost jobs. And there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel (see Q&A with former L.A. Times Editor James O’Shea on page 12).
Adding to the woes of the newspaper industry is the increase in the price of newsprint. Paper companies are facing the heat; some have been forced to sell idle machines. Although U.S. exports of newsprint have recorded an increase, newspaper publishers in the country remain in the doldrums.
TechnologyOne of the daunting challenges facing newspaper publishers and editors today is to get journalists, especially older ones, to adapt to changing times, to learn to use new technology and to enhance their skills to contribute more productively. Journalists, though, realise that they need to be hands-on with computers and digital technology. Many are adapting fast. The Telegraph’s integrated web and newspaper thrust, for example, has been on making staff realise that they work for the digital element of the newspaper as well.
Time is not far off when readers could receive customised or individualised versions of newspapers. The technology that can do this is now available – it is called short run digital printing.
When ACAP (automated content access protocol) technology was launched in November 2007, it was thought it would give online publishers greater control and flexibility over the access they granted to search engines to index web pages, and help them to get rid of copyright issues between Google and online publishers. However, the technology seems to have few takers, at least in the U.K.
Community journalismThe focus of stories on newspapers’ declining circulation has mainly been on large newspapers and not so much on neighbourhood or community newspapers, most of which are not dailies and probably appear once a week. Well, community newspapers are flourishing in several parts of the world. Surveys conducted by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, for instance, reveal that more than 80 percent of Americans 18 years and older read a community newspaper a week. And what is the key to increasing sales? Keeping the news local.
Community journalism is all about being able to tell your story to someone else. It is about creating content for communities, by communities. The Knight Foundation in Miami now supports a digital media initiative to make community news more meaningful. Guardian.co.uk plans to launch a new community section on its site. And regional newspapers in the U.K. are taking the community approach to their online offerings.