For the first time in a long time, I read a couple of newspapers today. One was a premium regional daily, the other local weekly.
Now reading newspapers is something I have not done in years. I simply never had the time, even on a Sunday morning.
So as someone who hasn’t picked up a newspaper since the mid-90s, I may be one of the people who has contributed to their decline. The first thing I noticed was how thin the papers felt. I was looking for job adverts (of course) and the paper I picked up had two. Back in the day, there would have been page after page of job ads to go through and cross off, or ring around.
Now there may be two factors at work here. People are advertising jobs online because it is cheaper, and that circulations of newspapers are generally regarded as being down. Again, I have to hold my hands up in playing a part in that.
Seeing that I had failed in my quest, I turned to the news content. Everything I read in the newspaper I had just about seen online already. That was definitely true of the international and national stories. No so much on the local stuff. The papers didn’t offer any extended analysis on the subjects and I got a distinct feeling that the reporters were just re-writing the same newswire content.
That left me thinking. There really are only three sections where the newspapers can fend off the online assault.
- Hyper-local content – online sites cannot content-scrape truly local stories driven by communities.
- Feature articles – the non-news but interesting sections of the paper.
- Investigative Journalism – which is hideously expensive.
Now the hyper-local content needs boots on the ground. You need your reporters out in communities, on the housing estates, sniffing around for news and filing copy, pictures and video over the wire.
Feature articles would have appeared in magazines in the 90s. Yet, if you walk into any newsagent and just look the magazine shelves, there has been a substantial fall-off in the number of titles available, so it is no surprise features are trying to find new homes in newspapers.
Investigative journalism is expensive. It is labour intensive and after the phone hacking scandal, it does not have a good reputation at the moment. However, if it is done correctly, investigative journalism is one of the gatekeepers of a democracy. As it is expensive, most titles no longer bother and it is only the large national newspapers that produce the stories we hear about. Investigative journalism rarely happens at a local level anymore.
I can’t really complain because I am as guilty as anyone to contributing to the problem, but not having read a paper for so long I did find the changes both surprising and profound.