I’m kicking off this blog in the wake of major restructure announcements from two of the largest print/digital media publishers in Australia. It appears to be the beginning of the end for newspapers or perhaps it is the point where digital news needs to be taken more seriously here in Australia.
Many legacy media diehards might still argue that the newspaper will be with us for a while to come and in a different way, it probably will. With insiders last month revealing that the newspaper The Australian allegedly loses more than $25 million a year and print news impresario Rupert Murdoch announcing he will separate his entertainment and publishing operations at News Corp, as well as abdicate from a string of his newspaper companies, this blog intends to face print media’s struggles and consider what the future of news could look like without papers.
Restructures and redundancies rattle the Australian media industry
The decline of the newspaper and the difficulty for the online news media to turn a healthy profit in the dawning digital age have been global problems for many years, but Australian editors, reporters, subs, producers and print facility workers are reeling after the huge restructure announcements that hit home last month. Both CEOs of Fairfax and News Ltd made direct statements within days of one another. The moment was dubbed “Australia’s media-shake-up”. It felt more like a reckoning.
Plans to restructure Fairfax and News Ltd will eventuate in thousands of media job losses over the coming few years as two very influential media companies make a committed shift to digital news production and publishing.
The announced changes will see the much-loved Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age broadsheet newspapers turn tabloid in format. They also include a hint at Fairfax’s plans to charge for online content at the aforementioned metropolitan mastheads later in 2012, following Fairfax’s Australian Financial Review, which already requires paid subscription by readers.
Of the 1900 job cuts officially announced at Fairfax in June about 20% will include editorial positions. About 150 positions from metropolitan mastheads like Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and the Canberra Times will be axed in the coming months. Fairfax’s newspaper printing presses are officially preparing to close operations.
News Corporation has been a beacon in the news media online paywall experiment and Australian arm News Ltd launched paid digital subscriptions for The Australian in January this year. Its ‘Future of Journalism discussion’ launched in March 2012 alongside Melbourne’s The Herald Sun online paywall, which includes trailing premium subscription-only content.
However, amidst these progressive moves towards increasing digital revenue News Ltd announced in June that they plan to shrink newsgathering operations. When News Ltd CEO Kim Williams outlined the company’s plans, he noted that its print newspapers will be maintained, its past respected, while making way for a digital future. Very different to Fairfax’s CEO Greg Hywood who announced the closing of printing operations. Currently News Ltd is already reducing its newsgathering operations across Australia’s east coast from 19 to five divisions. No official job loss numbers were released, some speculate up to about 1000.
The future of news
A healthy, diverse news media industry producing high-quality journalistic content is integral to a functioning democracy like Australia’s. What’s concerning is that the future viability and vibrancy of journalism is in question as the news media digitizes and prominence of print newspapers wane.
Mass editorial redundancies, news consolidation, cutbacks and reproduction at Australia’s major publishers effectually means less journalists will be on the ground chasing the stories, checking the facts, diversity of content and opinion will decrease – it can only lead to a weakened fourth estate and a less informed public.
Alternatively, the Australian media can aim towards achieving a sophisticated and hopefully a somewhat profitable shift to digital news production and publishing. But has anyone come up with a good plan to do so?
Some questions I’ll be mulling over in this blog:
How will the news media replace the traditional and well-practised processes of print journalism’s investigative newsrooms in a digital age, when it can’t turn enough profit in the new medium?
How are publishers going to find revenue to pay the writers, fact-checking sub-editors, producers if news consumers are so comfortable with getting their news for free online? Will they pay for original online news?
Is this the death of print or is there still a place, albeit a smaller space, for newspapers and magazines?
How will Fairfax’s recently realigned “digital first” news publishing model fare as it pushes to integrate its print, mobile and online platforms?
How will the current consolidation A.K.A reduction of news gathering operations affect the quality and diversity of news content in Australia?
How will the concept of journalism, the processes of and industry surrounding journalists, develop and survive post-print?