Tomorrow's newspapers

In the beginning, newspapers gave people the news.

Over time, radio, television, computers, phones and tablets have increased the ways in which people can get the news.

Now people are questioning the future of newspapers. Will tomorrow's people want their news printed on paper, trucked around the country and sold at corner shops? Or will they get what they need when they need it from whichever site or blog they have on their phone?

Newspapers have not been first with the news since the BBC started reading it out on the wireless. But they have told us about the news, pulled it all together, made sense of it, commented on it, packaged it with puzzles, competitions, offers.

And they have great writers and great headline writers:

These two skills set newspapers apart from most of the information available on the internet.

But talent costs money. Newspapers used to make a lot of money. Lots of people bought them; lots of people wanted to advertise in them. Today, those customers and advertisers are dwindling. Too few people under the age of 30 buy newspapers.

The Independent has stopped printing. Regional newspapers are  closing. More are bound to follow.

If newspaper companies want to carry on setting the agenda, they have to work out how to earn the sort of money they used to earn when everyone bought a paper, now that everyone looks at their phone when they want to know something.

Will paywalls do it, or is giving the news away free better? Mail Online gives it away free and millions want it, but does the advertising bring in enough revenue? The Times is behind a paywall where the readers are fewer, the advertisers have a smaller audience and the return is smaller.

The technology is bringing newspapers new competitors. The new guys have lower costs and are quicker on their feet.

They don’t have the same political clout as newspapers, but the ability of the big proprietors to make Downing Street quake is waning as their circulation steadily declines. And do people want political direction from a newspaper any more? If the under-30s are getting the news they want from the sources they want, surely they are more likely to vote the way their favourite blogger leans, rather than the way a newspaper tells them to lean.

We have had a vibrant press in Britain for more than 100 years. Will it die out like shipbuilding and coal mining, or will it change with its public, as the pubs on every corner have changed into coffee shops?


Hugh Dawson

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