The future of newspapers

The age of podcasts, war-zone bloggers, and countless other online information sources presents newspapers with arguably their biggest challenge ever. But how to react? Is print heading for obsolescence? Or can it re-invent itself and reach out to a generation brought up looking at screens? Leading media figures tell Ian Burrell where we're going from here


Steve Auckland, Associated Newspapers, head of free newspapers division

If you look at the growth of free newspapers and put that on top of the decline of paid-fors I think we are still ahead of the game. There's a hell of a lot more people reading newspapers in London than there were going back even two months.

I think you'll end up with some premium-branded newspapers, a bit like The Sunday Times has done with its £2 price, which will be far more niche-orientated. The ones that have got a clear definition as to what their market is are the ones that will survive. Love it or like it the Daily Mail has a very strong market, it has a right-wing bias and it really targets that quite heavily. It's getting that niche and really working it. That's where Metro has been successful, it's a young, urban, travelling audience and it's fulfilling a need for that audience at that place and time. We don't want older readers and we don't want young kids.

Online we know we are not going to break the news first but we can be quirkier and get a cult image with that market. I don't see it as a threat, just as another way that we can extend our brand.

Helen Boaden, Head of news, BBC

I think the challenge for traditional media is how they make money in this new world. No one's really come up with an answer for it yet. But if you sit where I sit on the Tube every morning and watch under 30-year-olds avidly reading the Metro and gobbling up the information in it, I have no doubt that there's still an appetite for the convenience of newspapers. People are still going to want information, but newspapers are going to have to find new and innovative ways of getting to them.

The other thing is that the demographic of this country is getting older so you have got a lot of people who are traditional newspaper readers who will continue the habit they have had over a lifetime. The challenge is how to keep those people happy whilst bringing in a new audience of people who have infinite amounts of choice in terms of where they get their information.

Newspapers, like the rest of us, have got to straddle two worlds, the old analogue world and the digital world or, in newspaper terms, the newspaper as against the podcast.

Definitely for the short to medium term they are still around. But if I was running a newspaper what I would be worried about was how you actually make money. You might migrate a lot of your information and your audience to the web, but how do you make money out of it? Or significant enough amounts of money not just for profits for shareholders, but enough to keep the editorial going.

Tim Bowdler, CEO of Johnston Press

We believe the industry is extraordinarily well-placed to continue to be a vitally important medium in the local markets in which we operate.

That's not to say that newspapers can remain unchanged and expect life to carry on as it has. Clearly the digital space is one where barriers to entry are lower and there's a lot of competition, but we do have incredibly strong brands, incredibly close links with our communities and an unparalleled level of local content information and customer contacts. It's a question of grasping the opportunity that these new channels provide to make sure we remain the preeminent local media company.

With our Preston [Lancashire Evening Post multimedia newsroom] experiment we've found there has been a high level of enthusiasm among journalists to get involved in this new level of news reporting. We've had a huge growth in page impressions and unique users and are using the interactivity to shape the content of the newspaper.

We will be rolling this initiative out across our group and plan to do so by the middle of next year. In Preston we have LEP News, an hourly news bulletin read by one of our journalists, and we have people trained to take out video cameras to record various items in the community. You can well see that developing with the inclusion of audiovisual advertisements. You can see how an audio visual channel delivered over broadband could become a part of our offering.

Nicholas Coleridge, Managing director, Condé Nast Publications

Newspaper reading is very important to me, a major habit of my life. Although I also get news from the radio and the internet, I never entirely believe it until I have seen it in print. I prefer reading newspapers with strong editorial personalities and built-in political bias, for example The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mail. Editorial spin doesn't bother me - I like to know a newspaper's point of gravity. News on the internet is generally too vanilla for my taste. The prospect of a world without newspapers is hideous. I often read six a day, the range of quality papers in Britain is one of the perks of living here.

The Telegraph is still my paper of preference, though I am slightly anxious about it at the moment. It reads less decisively than it did, some of the old swagger is gone. I hope it comes back.

The "magazineification" of newspapers is everywhere. I have no particular objection to it. It is actually quite difficult for newspapers to do it well, because newsprint is so inferior to magazine paper. The reason I buy newspapers, however, isn't for stories that would be better done in monthly or weekly mags. I read newspapers for news, and the stories behind the news, political sketch writing (Quentin Letts in the Mail is the best), gossip and diary stories, and certain columnists (Charles Moore and Boris Johnson).

I suspect that newspapers will continue to lose market share of advertising and circulation for the foreseeable future. Magazines have gained share for four consecutive years. Although I am a magazine man, it will be a tragedy if young readers lose the habit of reading newspapers, it really will be their loss.

Jon Gisby, Head of Media Group, Yahoo! Europe

I was waiting for an easyjet flight in Paris airport the other day and there were two people clearly coming back from a hen night and looking at the English tabloids lined up outside the newspaper shop. One of them said "Don't bother to buy it, we can check it out online when we get home." That was really startling because it was coming at a time when you should be shelling out 40p or 50p to kill some time on a flight with a newspaper.

Are newspapers in crisis? Yes, unless they reinvent themselves because readership is moving away from the printed form. Do they have a future? Absolutely, but it's a future that looks quite different from the one they've been used to. When you are putting content online, you need to use the brands that newspapers have around authentic news and quality journalism in a medium that's more democratic and and interactive and slightly less tablets of stone. But my gut feel is that if I was an ambitious 21-year-old and had two job offers, one from traditional print and one was from online content or distribution, my guess would be that most people would take the online. A good way of determining whether an industry is in decline or not is to decide what you would do at the age of 21.

Bill Hagerty, Editor of the 'British Journalism Review'

The printed newspaper is in crisis but of course it has a future. Multimedia has to be an answer. Look across the Atlantic to The Washington Post and The New York Times, have they got a future? Not much. They said the Telegraph was the world's first multimedia newsroom - you've got to be kidding. I went to The Washington Post and they've got the whole lot in there, radio, TV, online and print all sitting alongside one another. It's a properly integrated multimedia operation. That's the way that papers have to go. In terms of the printed newspaper, sure it's in decline if you don't do something.

Stefano Hatfield, Editor of News International's 'thelondonpaper'

I've spent the last three years in a boom sector, the free newspaper part of the newspaper world. It's a ridiculous thought to think that newspapers shouldn't evolve exactly as society all around them evolves. There's a terrible tendency to hark back to the good old days but none of my team do; we are living the moment and enjoying doing things a different way.

It's less about us sitting in ivory towers and preaching at readers and more about a two-way communication with readers. It's not us pushing out our views to a grateful public in a didactic way, it's about building a community between the editorial of the paper and the readers.

People will still read newspapers. We and London Lite are putting out three-quarters of a million-plus a day and they are being read. It's not that people won't read any more, you just have to create the right sort of thing for them to read. I think there will always be room for a paid-for product although more and more papers will go free.

Peter Hill Editor of the 'Daily Express'

Newspapers have got to get their costs rigorously under control because they can't possibly spend at the rate at which some newspapers have been spending.

We've more or less abandoned the idea of giving away free DVDs every week with The Daily Express because the cost is outrageous and there's no retention (of readers), as anybody can see. I think that provided newspapers can make a profit they have a very long future. I think at Express Newspapers we've got it right. I think other people have got it wrong and could send themselves bust if they carry on spending the sort of money they're spending.

I'm talking about giving away things that cost £5 a copy for every extra copy sold. It doesn't make any sense and in the end it will have to stop. I'm amazed that shareholders haven't stepped in and started protesting about it.

Millions upon millions of newspapers are sold every day and they are still extremely popular in this country. There's no question about that. There's a lot of competition from all sides, but I think newspapers have proved themselves immensely robust. They are essential to the life of the country and I do not see an end to newspapers, ever. People will always like to pick up newspapers as they will always like to pick up books. Would you want to read a book on the internet? - I don't think so.

Nothing has yet been created that's as easy to read as a newspaper, you can read it in bed, in the bath, in the kitchen, on the train. My son is eight years old and if he wants to be a newspaperman I'm quite sure newspapers will be there for him.

Simon Kelner, Editor of 'The Independent'

In October 2003, the combined circulation of Britain's four quality daily newspapers was 2,173,248. In October 2006, the combined circulation of Britain's four quality daily newspapers was 2,198,449. So, incredible though it may seem, given the rush to predict the demise of this medium, more people are buying quality newspapers today than were doing so three years ago. Other sectors have fared less well - particularly the red-tops - but, if you include the growing distribution of free titles, many more people are reading newspapers today. And there is still an appetite to advertise in them.

A very specific factor has driven the rising figures of quality papers: innovation. In September 2003, The Independent launched the compact revolution, followed soon afterwards by The Times, and last autumn The Guardian invested a huge sum in changing to the Berliner size. All these titles have gained circulation rewards for a willingness to innovate, and newspapers must continue to adapt to the changing needs of readers. Information is freely, and instantly, available from so many sources that a newspaper cannot naturally consider itself the first port of call for information.

We must concentrate on our strengths and unique qualities. Newspapers have a tradition and authority that the online world cannot yet match; we cover news in more depth and breadth than the broadcast media; we have a voice, an attitude. In a world where everyone has a blog, there will be a premium on sober analysis, skilled editing, and authoritative comment. But our most pressing challenges may turn out to be more prosaic ones: how to maintain quality while tackling the rising cost of producing newspapers against a background of cover prices that are too low and the fragmentation of the advertising market. We need to be as clever about how we produce our papers as we do about what goes in them.

Will Lewis, Editor of the 'Daily Telegraph'

Part of the reason we are embracing and trying to dominate the digital world is because we think it will produce better newspapers. It depends on how you look at the current situation. Either you get down in the dumps about it - as readers and advertisers move off rather rapidly to reading and watching stuff outside of newspapers - or you embrace it. You say: "Wait a minute, if we produce a brilliant digital sports offering are we more or less likely to drive people into our brilliant newspaper sports section?"

I'm absolutely convinced that it's a virtuous circle. That brilliant journalism during the day will drive people into wanting to have our brilliant journalism in the newspaper in the morning. I fell in love with the Telegraph by reading the newspaper's sports section. The issue we face is that quite a lot of people aged 15 may not get their hands on a Telegraph sports section but they will see our fantastic Ashes coverage (online) and they will undoubtedly go "We'll have a bit more of that, thank you," and move into the newspapers. If you own a story online during the day there is concrete evidence that that pushes people into the coverage the next day.

Don't fall off your chair, but brilliant journalism wins on the web. When Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes something on the web millions of people read it around the world. When Sir John Keegan writes something it soars to the top of our charts.

The web is now in danger of being dominated by the regurgitation of substandard words and images, so if you can stand aloof from that, if you can ensure you are producing great stuff, then people will come and use it.

We absolutely think it's possible to produce two fantastic newspapers and at the same time a raft of digital products and services.

Andrew Marr, Broadcaster

Are newspapers doomed? Absolutely not. Although there's an enormous amount of online news-related material, if you analyse it, very, very little is actually new fact, new information - it's almost all parasitic journalism carried out either by broadcasters or newspapers.

So you have an enormous, gabbling opinionated commentariat which has sort of bubbled up over the past 10 years, but what you have not got, obviously, is a new source of original proper journalism, because that costs money and someone has to pay for it.

I don't see anyone on the internet with the financial resources to start to recruit, never mind train, frontline, investigative, serious reporting journalists. Those newspapers that focus particularly on hard reporting will be the ones that survive because that's the thing the internet cannot do. That's the USP of newspapers.

Piers Morgan, Former editor of the 'Daily Mirror'

Every newspaper has a great future online. End of story. Within five years every newspaper will be free and they'll all be online. And if they're not, they should be. There will still be a presence in print but that will be for older readers and you will find that anybody under the age of 35 will only read newspapers online.

It will be the newspapers who are the most dynamic online who win. Any newspaper editor or proprietor who believes they will escape this inevitable translation from newsprint to online will get buried. They are under a massive misapprehension. If newspapers do it right and invest now they will be successful and make lots of money. It's not the death of the paper. It's the morphing of the paper from a print version to online.

Gavin O'Reilly, President of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and chief operating officer, Independent News & Media

Despite the basic fact that newspapers still happily represent the second largest medium in the world - in terms of advertising billings and user consumption - it would be hard to believe this when one has to contend with all the negative commentary about ours being a "dying industry", and the rather tired conventional wisdom about all things digital and online.

I think there is a clear bias these days by media commentators/analysts to wantonly beat up on newspapers - to the exclusive benefit of digital/online. Nothing is ever that black or white in life, nor is media consumption mutually exclusive. However, this constant campaign of misinformation - and my industry's apparent inability to bat it back convincingly up to now - only perpetuates the problem. It has a real negative impact on the investor perceptions about newspaper companies and capital flow, not to mention the confidence of the industry among newspaper executives. And as we know, confidence begets confidence.

Rather than accepting the tired view that newspapers are dying, we should remember that 439 million people worldwide buy a newspaper every day. Global newspaper circulation sales (paid-for titles) increased by 0.56 per cent in 2005 and by no less than 6 per cent over the past five years. We are the world's second-largest advertising medium (30.2 per cent), exceeding the combined spend on radio, outdoor, cinema, magazines and the internet. In the past five years, more than $6bn (£3.2bn) has been invested in newspaper technology.

Importantly, despite this short-term market disaffection, it is interesting to see a rise in "public to private" private equity deals - where clearly the private equity boys see real durability in the future cash flows of newspaper companies. They see real business sustainability.

Ian Reeves, Editor of 'Press Gazette'

It's certainly a crossroads but with lots of different routes out. The choices that the big publishers make now are hugely significant as to what shape the industry will be in 20 years from now. Nobody can be remotely confident that the path they are choosing is the right one, that's the great conundrum.

For me I think it's all about grasping the opportunities that technology affords you. Those companies that are experimenting with a lot of things and allowing their talented people to try different propositions out are the ones that are going to work their way through it the best.

John Ridding, CEO, 'Financial Times'

There's no doubt that we are seeing the biggest changes and challenges to the newspaper industry for a generation, and certainly for the 19 years I have been at the FT. But from where I sit the doom and gloom is way overdone.

We are seeing good momentum, we are firmly back in the black and are positive about our prospects.

In a time of industry disruption and fragmentation it's all about defining your audience and being clear about what makes you different and essential. For us, a powerful force has been the globalisation of business. We have been in step with that trend and that strategy is paying off now.

How and when people consume news has clearly changed with online development and channels. From our perspective we have been investing in quality journalism for years and content is for us a competitive advantage. Online is more of an opportunity than a threat because it gives us new channels through which to reach our audience.

Alan Rusbridger, Editor of 'The Guardian'

I feel broadly optimistic. There are two important things to consider about revenue. One is that advertisers follow the audience. If you've got an awful lot of people in the demographic that advertisers want to reach using the web then advertisers will go there. The second thing is that Google has definitively demonstrated that there's an awful lot of money to be made from selling advertising against content and there's no point in complaining about Google, they've just been smarter than anybody else. The trouble is that Google is taking 85 per cent of revenue and we have to get some of that.

There are signs that the long-term economic model could be there. The problem is to get from here to there and that's the difficult bit. There's nothing I can do about print. That will be largely a combination of three things: the technologies that people invent, the habits of the audience and the economics of print - none of which I can do anything about.

As an editor I have to make sure that The Guardian is available in any form the consumer wants. In the average week we distribute The Guardian on eight or nine different platforms and one of those is print. There's nothing I can do if the trend is that people are moving away from print.

Print is important and is where a lot of the revenue is. I don't think it's going to disappear overnight but I think you have to be alive to whether a lot of the energy around what you are producing is actually not in print. Journalistically, the burden that we bear, which is enormous editorial costs - which no one else in the digital world is going to want to assume - is also our greatest strength.

John Ryley, Head of Sky News

Do they have a future, yes I think they do. But I'm about to catch a train from Washington to New York, it's 7.40am, there are 30 people waiting to catch the train, and half of them are either on BlackBerries or mobile phones. Two of them are reading newspapers and that's it. A Financial Times and a Washington Post. Both the readers are in their late forties. That for me is quite a symbolic illustration of the future.

This is in Washington, arguably the most opinionated city in the most powerful economy in the world.

The idea that people will buy a hard copy of a newspaper and pay 75p or a £1 for it, at a kiosk or counter and take it away, that ain't going to be around forever.

But the idea of a newspaper generating and publishing content just like a television organisation I suppose will be where the future goes. It all comes down to the delivery system, or to use that horrible television word, the platform.

It's easy to write off newspapers and I don't think their decline is imminent - they've been around for 300 years or whatever. But there's a shift taking place in the way that people find out what's going on in the world.

Chris Ward, Commercial director, MSN

Clearly the whole media landscape is changing and being driven by the way consumers are taking up new technology. It's changing the way people consume media and they're much more in control. Whereas 10 years ago I read a newspaper, watched TV and listened to certain radio stations, I can pretty much now circumnavigate all of that and put together my own media schedule and decide when and if to consume the marketing messages that come with it.

Newspapers are not going to die. But they need to embrace digital at the same time. Obviously they have a massive challenge because they have been hugely profitable but consumers are starting to vote with their feet and it's the consumers who will drag the advertisers away from print media and into digital. That's what we are seeing at the moment. Newspapers have a lot of great content but they need to make that available to people wherever they are and wherever they are consuming as digital consumers. If they are prepared to make their content available in that way and start thinking about new business models in order to generate revenue then I think they will thrive.

There will always be people who want to buy and read newspapers but the number who buy them regularly will diminish over time and we might start to see some rationalisation because it's going to be difficult to sustain those revenues. I know that privately newspapers are predicting very low (advertising) revenue growth next year, whereas online will grow another 50-60 per cent. That tells a story in itself.

John Humphrys, Presenter of the 'Today' programme

The idea of society functioning without newspapers in one shape or form is simply preposterous. If they don't survive, heaven help all of us. The question is what form they take and I would be absolutely astonished if within the foreseeable future they didn't remain in their current form.

We love newspapers. Obviously we are not buying them in the same numbers we did. They have been through this sort of crisis before and I have lost track of the times we have discussed the imminent demise of newspapers. But whenever a newspaper comes up for sale, you get killed in the rush, everyone wants to buy it. How come?

There are plenty of people like me, and I accept that I'm an old fart but, nonetheless, I loathe reading newspapers online and I love picking up a newspaper and reading it. I refuse to believe I'm alone. I've got kids who like newspapers and don't like reading stuff online and they are in their thirties.

And sooner or later we will explode the blog myth. The idea that you can click on to a few dozen blogs and find out what's going on in the world is nonsense. It's fun but that's all it is. I don't want to get my information from blogs but from carefully thought out newspapers. Newspapers are the people who employ reporters who go out to find the news. They have done that for a long time and will continue to do that.

Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport

Of course technology is changing our lives and the internet has created its own revolution in the lives of millions of us. Sometimes it is possible to overstate the scale, pace and even public enthusiasm for change. There will, I believe, for a long time to come, be an appetite for newspapers that increasingly offer news and views in a way that is distinctive and unconstrained by the rules that govern public service broadcasters. This difference is implicitly understood by the wider public. Of course there are generational differences and the challenge for newspapers is to use their creative talent to inspire, educate and inform a new generation.

Sir Martin Sorrell, Ceo WPP Group

The answer is yes they do have a future, but they probably have to adapt to the digital revolution. If I take the specific example of analytical comment on stock-market events, breakingviews.com or lex.com can give me immediate info and analysis of the impact. For example, when I was at Davos a couple of years ago and Procter (& Gamble) took over Gillette, I had analysis of that much more quickly than if I had had to wait for the Financial Times or The Wall Street Journal.

It's about how you define papers. In Korea, Ohmynews is a citizens' paper. They employ about 25,000 journalists and pay them $20 a story. It was created by two ex-journalists, using citizen journalists, and they've had two of the biggest scoops in Korea in the past year.

Over time, old and new media will fuse. As far as the profitability of newspapers is concerned, I doubt whether they will be as profitable in future. I was in New York last week and was told that Gannett has effectively fused all its editorial departments, so it has got one information desk that is feeding all the media it has across the country.

Newspapers are not dead. I think they will continue to develop. Young people are not reading as many newspapers as before and that's a worry, but newspapers are going to have to adapt to that. Immediacy is key.

Nathan Stoll, Global head of Google News

I would say that it's certainly the case that technology is disruptive and I think it's definitely a challenging time because of that. But I don't think new technology is a threat but an opportunity. My sense is that newspapers will continue to exist [but] the forms are still being experimented with, the ones that are going to work out long-term.

Think about sites like Ohmynews which has emerged in the past few years and has more than 40,000 citizen journalists, or even The New York Times experimenting with its TimesSelect model - or The Wall StreetJournal opening up some of its content which was once all behind a pay wall. I definitely believe that original quality journalism will always succeed.

Les Hinton, Executive chairman, News International

The choice is easy for newspaper executives and editors: we can be transfixed by the headlights of the oncoming internet train, or grasp the opportunity.

This is a tumultuous time and we have to refashion our business models, but the good news is that never has the media been able to reach more people more instantly with richer content.

The Times has been around since 1785, yet its journalism has never been more widely read - by nearly 10 million a month online alone, and still climbing. If you have great brands and great content, that is pretty well all that life is about. But we have to use our imagination to continually reinvent the manner in which we keep our brands popular.

Bright new low-cost start-ups will keep cropping up ready to chip away at our businesses. So we have to be nimble enough create our own versions. Yes, classified is moving to the web; but many papers are using their powerful brands to drive traffic to fast developing websites. And those websites are getting really interesting.

Andy Duncan, CEO, Channel 4

Newspapers face significant challenges. Whether you are talking about the music industry, television, radio or newspapers, they have to adapt to a fast-moving environment.

The biggest challenge to newspapers is the generation gap. Over a certain age there's an established base of loyal readers who will carry on reading newspapers until they die. The big challenge is how to bring in the younger generation. I wouldn't be incredibly gloomy in terms of the future of newspapers, but equally I don't think they can afford to be complacent.

In most cases you have very strong brands, you have a clear proposition in terms of what the newspapers are offering in editorial line and you've got a pretty loyal customer base. Those are all things to build on.

The newspaper groups that do best will be the ones that transition most effectively to new platforms.

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