Newspaper reports of our own death are greatly exaggerated

Newspapers are adapting to the fast pace of change in the industry but print journalists mistake this evolution for the medium’s demise

Lawson%20MuncasterI am frustrated. The newspaper industry can be so negative about itself. We live in a fast-moving world, yet when there is change in the newspaper business it’s reported as a reaction to the “death” of the newspaper rather than the actual “evolution” of the medium.

A recent advertisement by the World Association of Newspapers stated that 1.4 billion people read newspapers every day. Associated Newspapers last year announced its biggest ever profit. So why do we report that the industry is dying? Our industry is self-deprecating. Print journalists write with a poison pen about their own business. How many television newsreaders do you hear talking about TV fragmentation? 

Over the past couple of weeks, London Lite and thelondonpaper afternoon freesheets have been locked in battle. Both companies are big enough to know better but let’s actually look at the positives. Even if 10,000 copies are being dumped daily, there are still 890,000 people picking up a free afternoon paper in London every day and that’s fantastic. If you reprofile that up to a national level, that’s the equivalent of 4 million people every day. And City AM has just hit the 100,000 distribution figure only 19 months after launch. Let’s be proud of these positives which demonstrate the industry is evolving.

The phenomenal record of free newspapers across the globe is a shift in – not the death of – how people consume their news. In Spain and Denmark there are now more free newspapers than paid-for and these are not going to be the exception to the rule. In the UK, the advertising community has accepted the free model, as have most major publishing houses which will probably have a stable of free and paid-for papers in the not too distant future.

Free newspapers are now a healthy part of the newspaper industry. And as an industry, we must be optimistic when adapting to change. This means not being afraid of technology. Newspapers will remain part of people’s lives. Newspapers are timeless as a reader can dip in and out and be in total control. The roll-up digital version will never overtake the paper version. Circulation won’t go down. But people will read newspaper content on the internet.

When we launch CityAM.com in the second quarter, this is not going to affect how the newspaper works. City AM is read at the beginning of every day by people trying to consume business information as quickly as possible. Our job is to streamline that process for them. I challenge any internet company to deliver the news we cover in the first 12 pages of City AM in the time it takes to read the paper. And that’s why we’ve got over 100,000 readers.

By embracing technology, we’re giving people the choice. We were one of the first papers to launch a podcast (with the first Bluetooth podcast download in the world) and are number three in the iTunes business/investing top podcast league, our mobizine news service is the number one download and we’re launching a Web portal.

With all these changes, there’s of course an impact on the advertising environment. There are now a variety of platforms making it harder to buy and evaluate – and both publishers and buyers need to adapt. Buyers have to better understand the differences between a paper and website user. Granted, the better agencies are already ahead of the game on this one and others need to catch up. On the publishing side, we have to understand that to sell the product effectively means making sure there is consistency across all platforms. If we don’t, we’ll lose out.

As a new company, City AM is lucky. The million-dollar companies are having to reposition themselves in the world of print and know they have to include technology, but they are big tankers which makes it difficult to change direction. We can be much more flexible in how we develop as a media company as we’re so young and haven’t inherited any problems. Media is a living thing that changes on a daily basis.

When it comes to newspaper loyalty, again the world has changed so much that papers have less of a stand politically. Newspapers may once have helped political parties win elections but political journalism is declining. It’s the way papers are written now that dictates whether people go to them for news – consumers will pick and choose. Having the right columnists, content and packaging attracts readers. So let’s stop trying to be intellectual snobs and remember that real people read newspapers. If we keep this firmly in our minds, there’s a bright future for newspapers.

The newspaper industry is evolving. It’s not dying. There are frees and paid-for papers that are now being enhanced by online offerings. Let’s be proud of what we produce and excited about the changes ahead. The newspaper industry must be more pragmatic and focus on the benefits of the industry’s evolution in a more proactive, positive light.

Lawson Muncaster is managing director of City AM

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