terça-feira, agosto 29

CHÁ QUENTE #219

In his book “The Vanishing Newspaper”, Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint dies in America as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition. That sort of extrapolation would have produced a harrumph from a Beaverbrook or a Hearst, but even the most cynical news baron could not dismiss the way that ever more young people are getting their news online. Britons aged between 15 and 24 say they spend almost 30% less time reading national newspapers once they start using the web.
Newspapers have not yet started to shut down in large numbers, but it is only a matter of time. Over the next few decades half the rich world's general papers may fold. Jobs are already disappearing. According to the Newspaper Association of America, the number of people employed in the industry fell by 18% between 1990 and 2004.
Having ignored reality for years, newspapers are at last doing something. In order to cut costs, they are already spending less on journalism. Many are also trying to attract younger readers by shifting the mix of their stories towards entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may seem more relevant to people's daily lives than international affairs and politics are. They are trying to create new businesses on- and offline. And they are investing in free daily papers, which do not use up any of their meagre editorial resources on uncovering political corruption or corporate fraud. So far, this fit of activity looks unlikely to save many of them.
Journalism schools and think-tanks, especially in America, are worried about the effect of a crumbling Fourth Estate. Are today's news organisations “up to the task of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends?” asked a recent report about newspapers from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a charitable research foundation.
Nobody should relish the demise of once-great titles. But the decline of newspapers will not be as harmful to society as some fear. Democracy, remember, has already survived the huge television-led decline in circulation since the 1950s. It has survived as readers have shunned papers and papers have shunned what was in stuffier times thought of as serious news. And it will surely survive the decline to come.
That is partly because a few titles that invest in the kind of investigative stories which often benefit society the most are in a good position to survive, as long as their owners do a competent job of adjusting to changing circumstances.
The usefulness of the press goes much wider than investigating abuses or even spreading general news; it lies in holding governments to account—trying them in the court of public opinion. The internet has expanded this court. Anyone looking for information has never been better equipped. People no longer have to trust a handful of national papers or, worse, their local city paper.
A new force of “citizen” journalists and bloggers is itching to hold politicians to account. The web has opened the closed world of professional editors and reporters to anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection
. Several companies have been chastened by amateur postings—of flames erupting from Dell's laptops or of cable-TV repairmen asleep on the sofa. Each blogger is capable of bias and slander, but, taken as a group, bloggers offer the searcher after truth boundless material to chew over. Of course, the internet panders to closed minds; but so has much of the press.
An elite group of serious newspapers available everywhere online, independent journalism backed by charities, thousands of fired-up bloggers and well-informed citizen journalists: there is every sign that Arthur Miller's national conversation will be louder than ever.
For most newspaper companies in the developed world, 2005 was miserable. They still earn almost all of their profits from print, which is in decline. As people look to the internet for news and young people turn away from papers, paid-for circulations are falling year after year. Papers are also losing their share of advertising spending. Classified advertising is quickly moving online. Jim Chisholm, of iMedia, a joint-venture consultancy with IFRA, a newspaper trade association, predicts that a quarter of print classified ads will be lost to digital media in the next ten years.
Even the most confident of newspaper bosses now agree that they will survive in the long term only if, like Schibsted, they can reinvent themselves on the internet and on other new-media platforms such as mobile phones and portable electronic devices. Most have been slow to grasp the changes affecting their industry—“remarkably, unaccountably complacent,” as Rupert Murdoch put it in a speech last year—but now they are making a big push to catch up. Internet advertising is growing rapidly for many and is beginning to offset some of the decline in print.
At first, from the late 1990s until around 2002, newspaper companies simply replicated their print editions online. Yet the internet offers so many specialised sources of information and entertainment that readers can pick exactly what they want from different websites. As a result, people visited newspaper sites infrequently, looked at a few pages and then vanished off to someone else's website.
Another early mistake was for papers to save their best journalists for print. This meant that the quality of new online editions was often poor. More newspaper companies are likely to treat their websites as a priority these days. “Before, newspapers used their second- and third-rate journalists for the internet,” says Edward Roussel, online editorial director at Britain's Telegraph Group, “but now we know we've got to use our very best.” Many companies are putting print journalists in the same room as those who work online, so that print writers are working for the website and vice versa.
The value of online ads grew by 70% in the first half of 2006. For the first three months of 2006, the Newspaper Association of America announced that advertising for all the country's newspaper websites grew by 35% from the same period in 2005, to a total of $613m. But to put that in perspective, print and online ads together grew by only 1.8%, to $11 billion, because print advertising was flat. At almost all newspapers the internet brings in less than a tenth of revenues and profits. At this point, says Mr Chisholm, “newspapers are halfway to realising an audience on the internet and about a tenth of the way to building a business online.”
The big problem is that readers online bring in nowhere near the revenues that print readers do. All but a handful of papers offer their content free online, so they immediately surrender the cover price of a print copy. People look at fewer pages online than they do in print, which makes web editions less valuable to advertisers.

It's the journalism, stupid
Consultants advising newspaper groups argue that they need to adjust their output. Research into the tastes of mainstream newspaper readers has long shown that people like short stories and news that is relevant to them: local reporting, sports, entertainment, weather and traffic. On the internet, especially, says Mr Chisholm, they are looking to enhance their way of life. Long pieces about foreign affairs are low on readers' priorities—the more so now that the internet enables people to scan international news headlines in moments. Coverage of national and international news is in any case a commodity often almost indistinguishable from one newspaper to the next. This impression is exacerbated as papers seek to save money by sacking reporters and taking copy from agencies such as Reuters. “Our research shows that people are looking for more utility from newspapers,” says Sammy Papert, chief executive of Belden Associates, a firm that specialises in research for American newspapers. People want their paper to tell them how to get richer, and what they might do in the evening.
The biggest enemy of paid-for newspapers is time,” says Pelle Törnberg, Metro's chief executive. Mr Törnberg says the only way that paid-for papers will prosper is by becoming more specialised, raising their prices and investing in better editorial. People read freesheets in their millions, on the other hand, because Metro and others reach them on their journey to work, when they have time to read, and spare them the hassle of having to hand over change to a newsagent.
Deciding whether or not to start a freesheet, indeed, perfectly encapsulates the unpalatable choice that faces the paid-for newspaper industry today as it attempts to find a future for itself. Over the next few years it must decide whether to compromise on its notion of “fine journalism” and take a more innovative, more businesslike approach—or risk becoming a beautiful old museum piece.

1 comentário:

Z disse...

Illuminating!