The Future Of Journalism

I was on a panel yesterday at the Future Of Journalism conference in Brisbane. As you can perhaps tell from earleyedition’s tweets, my comments were not well received. As usual, I tried my best to explain that the economics of media have fundamentally changed and that means all bets are off. But, as usual, nobody listened and I was accused of being a “shock jock” espousing “revolutionary rhetoric”. Jean Burgess from QUT used the old line about “we’ve had technological shifts before and it didn’t cause the end of the industry”, completely missing the point that this is NOT about a technology shift – it’s about an economic shift.

To wit:

Fifteen years ago, if I wanted to publish something to a wide audience, the financial barriers were extreme. The cost of owning a newspaper or magazine were (and still are) very high. So very few people were able to own one. It was a limited playing field. Consequently, the people who *did* own a newspaper had the market to themselves. There was limited competition for people’s attention. As a result, they could carve their local market up between themselves and fund their business through advertising.

However, today, anyone can publish something online. The economic barriers have been removed. Consequently, there are 75 million active blogs that I can read, not 4 newspapers. And so audience attention is fragmenting and the traditional news companies can’t control it. As they lose audience, their ability to generate advertising revenue diminishes. As revenue declines, they can’t afford to maintain their old cost structures, so they start downsizing. Sound familiar? It’s a negative spiral. And there is NO. WAY. OUT.

Anyway, I’d like to thank Antony Funnell from ABC radio’s “Media Report” for doing a great job moderating our panel. He did a good job getting everyone’s views, including the ones that were extremely unpopular.

17 thoughts on “The Future Of Journalism

  1. Agreed. It’s so easy to get your stuff out now. You can publish a book on CafePress and LuLu for close to nothing. Start a blog or a podcast for nothing. I think the issue with new media is pollution. It’s great that it’s easy to get your opinions out, but sometimes you need to sift through a lot of crap to get what you want.

  2. Jim, yeah we definitely need better tools for discovering what we want to read, watch & listen to, but that’s not going to save the old media from erosion.

  3. As a technologist, I heartily agree this is an economic change. They eyeballs and earballs are moving their attention.

    Where the eyes and ears go, so goes the advertising dollars.

    It is not to traditional media.

    Increasingly, the big advertisers and little advertisers (little == classified ads) put their dollars where it gets the most return. Online.

    And online, everyone is at the same level. A big media company looks equally large as a no traffic blog. You cannot tell the difference.

    Apart from economics, it is the effect of the large generational shifts the world is experiencing.


  5. Quality will win through in the end. It will just take a while for people to get over the idea of relying on a few large media outlets and focus instead on the quality of the actual content.

  6. Charlie, I think it’s a combination of quality, relevance and timeliness. I read blogs that most people might not find at all interesting, but they are interesting to me, much more than any of my local newspapers.

  7. Cameron, I thought your perspective on Saturday was interesting and a definite possibility. However, I would still argue that newspapers will not be dead any time soon. I am still convinced the experience of different news mediums will have a profound effect on where journalism is heading, so while the economic shift will impact on it, there is still some need to consider how each medium is different.

    As a young person I find newspapers are fantastic reading on the weekends because you don’t have to sit and stare at a screen. I do that enough already, and the distraction online advertising brings with it is enough to drive me away when I want to focus on news and current affairs. I find advertising in newspapers much less invasive and, therefore, I’m more likely to look at the ads.

    Blogs are good, but as your above comment suggests, there are many you may find interesting that others will not. Newspapers tend to be of general interest, a bit of everything if you like. I read both, for different reasons.

    This argument isn’t clear cut, but it’s been discussed before within the creative industries. If we’re talking economics, television is far cheaper than theatre, but Australia has seen a resurgence within the theatre industry this year. Similary, DVDs are better value for money than going to the cinema, but we’re still getting amazing box-office numbers. I think it comes down to the fundamental differences in experiences that you can have and I’m not convinced newspapers will die, or even change all that much.



  8. Hi Amy,

    I agree that paper as a format is still a much easier read than screens. I think I made that point on Saturday – newspapers haven’t even really faced any REAL competition yet because we don’t yet have digital paper – a digital medium that is as lightweight, cheap and convenient as paper. However lots of companies and working on it and I’m sure we’ll have it at some stage in the future. Even without it, though, newspapers are still losing readers and revenue rapidly.

    Once we *do* have digital paper, I believe it will signal their death knell.

    I have to disagree with you about your theater and box office analogy. Going to the theater is a completely different experience to watching TV. Same thing is true for dvd and cinema. People go to the theater or cinema for a night out. They watch TV and DVD for a night in. You aren’t comparing apples with apples.

    Anyway – I’m happy to be wrong. It makes no difference at all to me if newspapers live or die. I’m just reading the signs.

    But Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Rupert Murdoch have all said newspapers as we know them are finished. So you don’t have to take my word for it.

  9. Hi,

    Couldn’t mobile devices such as PDA / smartphones / iphones be considered digital paper. I read the first 4 harry potter books using a PDA a couple of years ago. I found it very easy to read, a lot easier then a physical book, could easily bookmark where I was up to, I could read it in bed without waking my wife and I had several hundred books on there – so I could be reading several ‘books’ at once.

    I would (and do) prefer to read news on a mobile device then reading a physical bit of paper. But as I always get told – I am an edge case 😉 and I can also afford the ‘expensive’ mobile devices to read on.

  10. Stephen, I’m a big pda/iphone ebook reader myself, but true “digital paper” will be something that the masses use. It’ll be lightweight and inexpensive and convenient. Perhaps the iPhone might be the beginning of the revolution, but larger format devices like the iLiad ( or the Kindle might also lead us into it.

  11. Hi Cameron,

    Thanks for your thoughts, I’m enjoying the discussion.

    Maybe I’m blind to the change, but I just can’t see myself preferring a screen over paper any time soon. While I have access to ebooks, I would rather spend more money buying a hard copy than I would reading off a pda or similar device. No matter what type of screen it is I tend to prefer paper.

    It’s the same with an organiser. I know quite a few people who are fans of pdas, but I also know quite a few who still prefer to write down dates in a diary. It’s a matter of preference and I think the divide isn’t too unbalanced.

    Furthermore, on the idea of digital paper, I think it would take a while before any such invention would be marketable to the masses at a reasonable price. The type of technology we’re talking about won’t come cheap at first, and it could take ages before everyone has access to it because of that.

    The point of my analogies was that they are different experiences (which you seem to agree with) and therefore both compliment each other. You do one when you want to stay at home, and one when you want to go out. With newspapers and the internet, perhaps people will do one when the want to spend some time on the news, and one when they want facts fast.

    If that still doesn’t work for you I have another analogy which might be more appropriate. Last year I did extensive research on web series – shows produced solely for broadcast online – and found that although several web shows have been quite successful in the past year or so, their success has led them back to television instead of continuing online.

    The logical reason for this favouring of television seems to be that more people still watch tv and prefer it to web shows. I know newspaper numbers are low, but I think there will, similarly, always be a market for them despite technological innovation.

    Anyway, I know you said you don’t mind being right or wrong and are just reading the signs, but I think it’s an interesting topic to discuss, especially when our views are quite different.



  12. Hi Cameron, so we finally agree on something! The artificial scarcity of old media is being replaced with an abundance of new publishers, but few (best case) to none (worst case) actually have a business model. New media entrepreneurs all seem to proclaim the death of (advertising supported) old media yet chase… advertising dollars. The economic shift of new media has separated the utility of information from its profitability. As information moves closer to becoming ubiquitous, it moves further away from being an economic commodity.

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