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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Swing State Stories at Kickstarter

Could Kickstarter be used to crowdfund journalism? That’s the question GigaOM, a technology and business news portal, asks after a Michigan journalist managed to secure a few thousand dollars to fund an independent journalism project collating grassroots perspectives of Americans in the lead-up to the 2012 US election – it’s called Swing State Stories.

If anything, the fact that a journalist requires funding from charitable donors highlights the glaring financial stress the news media business is in, but we already knew about that. It also demonstrates that interesting, well-researched, trustworthy journalism costs money to make and that consumers are willing to pay for it, to a certain extent. What’s important to note is that large scale investigative reports can cost much more, hundreds of thousands of dollars sometimes. This particular journalist is willing to live in his car as he travels through the US for this project. The accumulated Kickstarter money will mainly pay for petrol, a video camera, some food.

I doubt crowdfunding can save the journalism industry in a broad way, although it may spark more independent projects. It’s an inspiring reminder of the power of the internet, as a medium for storytelling, for widespread distribution and its viral capabilities. The more stories, offering diverse and eclectic opinions, the better. Hopefully more freelancers will be inspired by this project.

*Read the GigaOm story

*Donate to Swing State Stories on Kickstarter

Hack video report - Death of the Newspaper

* Watch the Hack video report – The Death of the Newspaper

A video from 2009 that demonstrates how problems in Australia’s journalism industry are compounding in 2012. Interesting to note Journalist Gerard Noonan’s prediction have eventuated to a certain extent. Noonan says in this Triple J Hack report that papers had a shutdown time frame of three-to-seven years – prescient.

Web portals like The Huffington Post and blogs are not the future of news journalism, Claire Enders said at Britain’s Leveson Inquiry into press standards earlier in July.

Enders, founder of Enders Analysis, argued that online news websites do not fund the same complex reporting and investigations heralded by newspapers. Popular news websites like the guardian.co.uk and the dailymail.co.uk, have not found the “magic bullet” for a digital-only future and low profit turn-overs inhibit their ability to substitute the important work of print newspapers and create original hard news, she said.

“I believe that the Mail Online’s website, which, as I said is the second most popular website in the world, is going to be breaking even this year, but this is a very small enterprise. This is really small, even though, as I said, it is one of the most popular websites in the world,” she said.

Further to that, Enders said that research shows the consumption of online news information is different to that of print newspapers. According to Enders the average UK reader spends 40 minutes with a print newspaper daily. A digital news consumer spends 15 minutes a month reading, “That’s half a minute a day. It’s not a significant engagement. People will not pay for something with which they’re not significantly engaged,” Enders said.

Digital natives will be adult news consumers one day

Enders’ research described the news consumption habits of the older generations who are well accustomed to digesting their news through print. Her referenced demographic favour flicking through the paper rather than tapping a touch screen – but what about the “digital natives,” the future news consumers?

Her figures don’t account for the rise of the youth of today into developed, adult news consumers, the forthcoming generation already adept with parents’ iPads and iPhones as toddlers. These children are educated with computers at school and are socialising on Facebook before they reach puberty. They will be immersed in digital information by the time they reach university and the workforce.

A Reuters Institute study released in early July discovered that in the UK 13% of people surveyed use smartphones mainly to access news. When looking at the 25-34 year old age bracket specifically, the figure rises to 27%. Over 55s show little interest in accessing news on this new technology.

The study discovered that the same youths so willing to get their news on their mobile aren’t as eager to pay for it. Mobile phone users were more concerned (32%) than others about the cost of accessing news.

However, tablet users were found to be more willing to pay for news through the device. Generally from an older, higher-earning bracket, 58% of them say they use the device to access news every week and are more likely to pay for news content.

Paying for digital news appears to be unpopular in the UK where only 4% surveyed said they had paid for news online. This differs from Denmark who showed the highest rate of paid online news consumption at 12%, out of the five countries surveyed (US, UK, Germany, France and Denmark).

Considering that links between Smartphones, tablet computers and the access of news information are so notable within only a few years of mass marketing the new devices the connection between consumer and digital news can only strengthen via the new tools in the future. Albeit, unevenly across different countries with various news consumption habits.

The success and health of the future news industry is dependent on these satisfied future customers. The Australian industry needs to think about how they will entice this developing audience to pay for high-quality original online journalism – the underlying question seems to be how to fund it in the first place.

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?

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