Is the newspaper dead? And if not, when is it going to do the decent thing?
The question is being posed with a frequency which reminds me of the assertion that we could look forward to a ‘paperless office’ back in the 1980s. It’s this year’s big prediction, but it’s also being accompanied by some amazing ‘nose dive’ statistics about falls in circulation, advertising revenue and even job cuts, with the UK’s The Independent slashing some 90 editorial jobs recently.
Now we’re mightily behind this particular curve here in the Middle East, without a doubt. I don’t think journalists will be looking over their shoulders quite yet. And the insane block on sites like Flikr remains, too, slowing adoption of the technologies that are supplanting newspapers in other markets. For instance, many people online followed the recent violence in Mumbai, mixing ‘traditional’ media sources online with extensive on the spot photojournalism from Joe Public in Mumbai (on Flikr, so you couldn’t see it in the UAE) with a wave of Twitter tweets, blogs and Facebook conversations. Wikipedia’s entry on the violence was up, being debated and updated, as the incident was ongoing. There was little to be known that wasn’t known on the spot – the next day’s newspaper has a hard job staying relevant in a multimedia news environment like that.
Even Rupert Murdoch has said the future of newspapers isn’t ‘printing on dead trees’ and, following the US’ ‘digital election’, the online presence of key media such as the UK’s Guardian and the US’ Christian Science Monitor is growing faster than their paper presence is declining.
Having said that we’re behind the curve, there are some interesting online plays in the region. From AME Info through Zawya, Bawaba and Maktoob through to ITP’s arabianbusiness.com, the region’s websites are a growing presence in people’s reading habits. Newspapers are jostling with websites to get the story ‘up’ first: websites that have far bigger regional reach and immediacy than any newspaper could possibly hope to compete with.
Does that mean that we should all ignore newspapers? No! Of course not!
Not yet, anyway…
This feature orginally appeared in Campaign Middle East magazine.