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Blackburn lecture December 2012
Transcript of Blackburn lecture December 2012
Lecture on the state of journalism
Practical session on online skills
The news business is facing
So what are news companies doing about it?
The internet is making it easier for new players to start doing news
But there are no easy answers
Access to information
Building an audience
Going for audience
New ways of doing news
Printing less often
The risks of doing nothing
But the skills you learn here will be as important as ever
Experiments on new platforms
News Corp tried an iPad-only newspaper, The Daily. It looked impressive, but closed this month after less than two years.
1999-02: University of Leeds
2002-08: Sky News
Since 2009: Stay-at-home dad
2010-11: Saddleworth News
Since 2012: Radio 5 live
About 9 million newspapers are sold every day in the UK.
That's a lot, but it's down about 30% in the last ten years, and that decline is continuing.
The Sun is Britain's most widely read paper, selling 2.3m copies per day.
But in 2002, it was selling 3.5m copies per day. So, it's a declining force, but still a powerful one.
Local papers are finding it even tougher.
But some printed publications are thriving. The Economist, aimed at a global elite audience, has seen circulation rise steadily for 30 years.
Falls in circulation revenue have hit profits at newspapers. That problem's been made worse by a dramatic fall in money from advertising.
(This next chart applies to American newspapers, but it gives you an idea of what's happened)
This decline is because of a combination of factors, including the fall in newspaper circulation. But also more options for advertisers outside traditional media, and a general 'advertising recession'.
The economy has been struggling for more than five years now.
Media companies are subject to the same conditions as other companies. Recessions make it harder for businesses to make money, and invest for the future.
Some newspaper companies are dealing with bad decisions made long ago.
Johnston Press, one of the largest owners of local newspapers, paid big money for titles such as the Scotsman in the 'good years'. Now, it's £352m in debt.
Trinity Mirror, the UK's largest newspaper publisher, has a pensions deficit of £172m. Critics have described the company as a 'pension fund with some newspapers attached'.
These legacy issues make it harder for big publishers to invest in staff and digital technology, just at the moment when that investment is most needed.
On the face of it, times are good for the radio industry.
But local commercial stations have been absorbed into national 'brands', as companies attempt to save money and attract national advertisers. This has led to big reductions in local content.
Once, running one of the local ITV regions was a 'licence to print money'.
But, as in radio, mergers, cost-cutting and increased competition mean that's no longer the case. Now, there's far less local content on commercial TV. Although some TV companies are experimenting with local video news online.
The Daily Mail has aimed to make its website as popular as possible. By keeping it free and concentrating on showbiz, it's become the biggest newspaper site in the world, even though it's very different to the printed paper.
The Guardian, despite being a relatively small circulation British paper, has tried to use the internet to become a global voice of liberal values. It's in the top five most read newspaper websites.
Online allows much greater flexibility, so new ways of telling stories are appearing. Liveblogs, giving a running commentary on a story or event, have proved very popular.
But iPad versions of existing news products are now common. Publishers see them as a way of making money, to make up for losses in circulation revenue.
Some news companies have stopped giving away their stories for free online, and make readers pay to visit their websites.
This can help make a bit more money, but the number of people visiting websites behind 'paywalls' is very small. So The Times has much less global reach than The Guardian or Mail.
Non-newspaper sites, such as the BBC, also present a problem for paywalls. Why would anyone pay to read something, when you can get something similar for nothing?
The easiest way for news companies to save money has often been to cut journalists. Critics say this leads to a reduction in quality, making readers even less likely to buy the papers.
Local daily papers are starting to turn into weeklies, albeit with websites updated every day.
In America, where the decline of newspapers has been faster than in the UK, well-known papers have closed entirely.
Freely available software like Wordpress, Blogger and so on, means that people with little web knowledge can now set up good-looking websites to publish news.
In the past, you'd have needed to know all about code, but now it's much easier for anyone to become a publisher.
Many public documents are now available online for anyone to look at, not just established journalists. This can be a good source of stories.
Freedom of Information laws mean that much more information about what public bodies do is now available to us. On sites like What Do They Know, this information can be seen online by anyone.
These developments make it possible for interested citizens to find out things, and write about them online. When this applies to a specific local area, it's often known as a "hyperlocal" website.
Often, these websites publish information that is either no longer, or never was, included in newspapers.
Online also allows people to read websites about specific niche topics that they are interested in.
Social media makes it easier than ever for people to find and share these websites. They don't have to read a 'general interest' newspaper on the off chance there might be one article about that topic.
If once you read your local paper to keep up with your local football team, now you're more likely to read a fans' forum. You can be part of a fans' community, and discuss rumours and so on with others, a better and more interactive experience than just reading a paper.
The Money Saving Expert forum is so popular, it has more active users than Twitter, according to some estimates.
People read newspapers for all sorts of reasons, from the crossword pages to the TV listings. But we rely on papers to do investigative journalism, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Without that, our democracy won't function as well.
The News of the World may have broken laws when it hacked phones. But its closure already means that one newspaper that often carried out high-profile investigations is now gone.
But this applies on a local level too. Without newspapers, who would cover local council meetings and courtrooms?
Arguably, there are some parallels between the news business today, and the music industry a decade ago.
With the help of Apple's iTunes, the music industry was able to find a way to make sure consumers continue to pay something for music, even if it's not as much as they used to in the days of CDs. As a result, live performances have become more important to musicians as a way of making money.
The point is: the music business is different now. But people still make music, and quality musicians still make a living from it. So there's no reason to believe people are going to stop reporting and writing news. But a 'silver bullet' along the lines of iTunes seems unlikely for newspapers.