Journalism Must Change

This is an English translation of the original post “Feumaidh Naidheachdas Atharrachadh

The profession I hope to go into when I leave university is that of journalism.  It’s a job that I’d enjoy a lot, and more than that: I think I’d be good at it.  But it’s an industry that’s rather old-fashioned in a world that seems as though it’s changing faster than ever before.  Even though I’m confident enough that journalism is going to be an industry that stands the test of time, it has to change to stay as useful as it is at the moment to the public at large.

There’s no doubt that newspapers are on their way out.  They don’t sell nearly the number of copies they did even just twenty years ago.  The internet has made news easier to find and easier to take part in.  Before, talking to people around you was the one way of “using” the news but now you can post your opinion online about any topic at all and have a debate with people from around the world.  This is far more interesting and gives a much greater depth to the enjoyment people get from the news.  Newspapers have nothing at all that can counter-act this and give them the upper hand.  Most people simply don’t care about the opinions of the public when they’re printed in the papers; there’s no way to question the reasons behind their views.  The same human connection isn’t there at all.  This is one of the strongest features in the success of online news.

There’s still a place for the companies behind newspapers, even if the public doesn’t have the same patience for the papers themselves, but they do need to change the sort of stories they publish in a sense.  Celebrities can get their own news out via outlets like Twitter and their own websites, so there’s little need for the tabloids but for collecting these stories.  No-one has to suffer through the rubbish that’s in the front few pages of papers about the trials and tribulations of singers and actors to find the stories they really care about anymore.  Newspapers don’t have the same power to choose the stories and set the agenda they want to show to people.  The people will find the stories they have an interest in anyway.  This is a seismic shift.

Certainly, the scandal at the News of the World a few years ago surrounding hacking the phones of famous people didn’t help the case for newspapers.  It’s only the latest in a string of stories about journalists of newspapers going outside the moral realm they should stay in.  The difference this time is that the public have a choice – they don’t have to buy these newspapers to get their news if they don’t agree with them.  There’s such a wide choice for people in terms of getting their personal news fix that the narrow scope of newspapers is not enough for many now.

There has also been a change in the sort of age of people that read news online.  It’s not just young people that are online now, with older people learning how they can use the internet to help themselves find the news.  Perhaps ten years ago the internet was hard for many old people to get and use but now it’s easier to buy a computer and use it than go into the town every day to buy a newspaper.  Even my grandfather, a man of eighty years old, gets his news online.  It’s not unusual now for people to reject the news on TV, radio and in the papers in favour of the news online.

Some broadcasting and newspaper companies have made great websites, though.  As I’ve said before, the BBC News website is perhaps one of their best and most important services in the present day – and it has a sterling reputation around the world for it.  I also like the Guardian’s website because it puts up longer stories, which go into more depth than they can when constrained by the number of words they can put on page.  They are also good for publishing controversial stories and debates where people can contribute their own opinion.  They mix both sides of their business impressively.  Even though I’m loathe to admit it, sometimes The Sun does good work on their website as well; with the videos of their investigations, which are better to watch than to read about.  These websites are exemplars that have made solid and successful plans to be at the forefront of journalism even when their traditional mediums are completely forgotten.

Not all newspapers have been as successful with their advances into the digital frontier, especially when it comes to generating revenue.  The likes of The Times, The Herald and also The Sun have put up “paywalls” where you have to pay to read their news stories.  There’s no evidence yet that doing this will earn much more revenue than normal advertising, like that you would find on any other website.  They have certainly lost readers who have gone to other websites where they can find the same stories for free.  I can see why companies want people to pay directly for their stories, but I think this comes from an old-fashioned way of thinking.  Websites are cheaper to run than a newspaper and are far, far faster for getting news out.  If these companies got rid of their newspapers in a physical form they would make more money.  Even though a tradition that has been around for centuries would be lost, the same function would be performed but more effectively – and that’s what’s important at the end of the day.

Journalism won’t go away as long as society remains even vaguely as it is today.  We have too much of an interest in people and the events around us for that.  But if there isn’t a change in journalism from its old-fashioned ways, people will create their own new journalism industry and the institutions, people and traditions that used to be strong would be left to rot like newspapers left in the rain.

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