‘The Huffington Post is not the future of news journalism’

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.

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