Last year, while speaking at an Oxford Union question and answer session, Buzzfeed founder and CEO (and Huffington Post co-founder) Jonah Peretti summarised his thoughts on the debate around the ongoing viability and consumer appeal of traditional versus digital media.
“People would rather get their news instantly…than wait for the next day and get the newspaper shipped to their house. They’d rather be able to see a story…and be able to share it with their friend... People would rather have personalised media, where you’re seeing things that are of particular interest…that are being recommended to you…
“Those are all things that are only possible if it’s digital… People like it better.”
From someone at the forefront of the digital landscape, these views aren’t surprising – but as anyone in media will know, Peretti’s perspective is one that currently dominates mainstream conversation around the future viability of print. Like it or not, the consensus is that it’s only a matter of time before print media like newspapers and magazines become totally obsolete.
What perspectives like this one fail to consider, however, is that print and digital news outlets serve complementary purposes for many consumers.
This is not to deny the power of digital news platforms; they offer a degree of immediacy and personalisation that print doesn’t. Digital offers ubiquity, speed, searchability, targeting and interaction – the list goes on.
But why must it be “either or”? At Stuff, we find that - in concert with digital - newspapers are unrivalled when it comes to curating the most relevant, in-depth and impactful news in one easily digestible format, in a way that delivers a unique experience. And it’s one that New Zealanders living in communities across the country - many outside our marketing industry bubble - continue to engage in.
In any given week, a massive 66 percent of New Zealanders read a newspaper. This suggests an enduring relevance and reach that many in the media and marketing industry continue to overlook. In many of our towns and cities, the local newspaper is one of the most important places locals go to get their information. And I thank them for that!
The power of newspapers to deliver quality journalism, opinion and content that is relevant to communities was highlighted recently when the tragic events in Christchurch unfolded. Breathtakingly high numbers of Cantabrians followed unfolding events on their mobiles and online, and snapped up more copies than usual of the Christchurch Press, with editions following the event having larger print runs, as deeper reflection and contemplation became the way many chose to engage with events.
Traditional media like print and broadcast will continue, for years to come, to occupy an important position as a preferred news source for many consumers – because people have grown up with them, they enjoy them - and they trust them.
While the focus in recent times has undoubtedly been on the viability of print (with many incorrectly announcing its death), in reality, news organisations of all types, all over the world, are grappling with changing habits of news consumption, and the implication this has for the viability of their business models. Not even Buzzfeed has proven infallible under Peretti’s leadership, having announced a series of redundancies (all around the world) earlier this year. And they also recently released a print edition!
The strategies to ensure media organisations are able to produce important journalism are many and varied – from building an ecosystem and venture business like we have, to implementing paywalls and subscription models, encouraging donations, or streamlining operations – but the challenge is universal.
Bearing this in mind, and as long as there remains a demand and a preference among consumers for quality print journalism, I would argue that print isn’t dying – it’s simply facing a period of much-needed change, adaptation and innovation.
In a world where news updates are ever more immediate, more accessible and more personalised than ever before, consumers look for sources of information they can trust. Print, as a medium, has a heritage of news delivery that conveys integrity, authority and trustworthiness. With the phrase ‘Fake News’ having permeated popular culture both here and abroad, that’s true for both consumers, and for companies that choose to invest part of their marketing budget into such a trusted medium as print.
It’s important to remember that, in New Zealand, it is through brands advertising and readers subscribing to newspaper that the funding is created for the essential local journalism, created around a strong code of ethics, that keeps our communities and democracy healthy and corruption-free.
The narrative needs to shift from a focus on the lifespan of print to the collective responsibility of all news outlets (across the board, no matter the channel or medium) to deliver quality, credible, audience-led journalism that consumers can trust.
Print titles, and the popularity and relevance they still undoubtedly have, is an important part of that discussion.
- Ben Rose is the general manager of newspapers at Stuff