The other day I came across a website called newspaperdeathwatch.com. It is a website dedicated to “Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism”, and lists all newspapers that went out of business since the website was created in 2007. Multiple blog entries talk about how Social Media is eventually going to kill the print papers for good. It got me thinking: Can we just apply the Buggle’s song “Video killed the radio star” to this situation? Is this really what is happening right now? Is social media going to kill the newspapers?
If you had asked someone twenty years ago if they thought newspapers would ever disappear from society, the answer would probably have been no. The same question asked in today’s society is very likely to get a really fragmented answer. The birth of the Internet has changed the world dramatically and also influences the position of news organisations in our society. Freedom of press is no longer exclusive to those who own one, but everyone that has access to a computer and Internet can be a journalist and spread their thoughts and stories.
Thinking back about some of the latest breaking news like the deaths of Steve Jobs or Osama Bin Laden; I found out about those on my Facebook or Twitter Wall linking me to an article on a news website. Nowadays this is the way we find out about breaking news.
Consequently the monopoly position of newspapers is jeopardised, as their business model, focused on capitalising on news, is decreasingly successful. News is available in abundance so why pay for it? I can just get it for free everywhere.
Online consumers can freely share information with their friends and consume information from all over the world created by a multitude of sources. They can create their own news world, be their own newsroom and are not impaired to ask direct questions or even start a revolution through social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. It is nowadays so much easier to get access to some of the same sources real journalists use and become a “news blogger”.
The tables have been turned and the consumer has more power and more control than ever. The established news organisations have to find a role to play in this new diverse field. News organisations that fail to reinvent themselves will eventually disappear, as documented by newspaperdeathwatch.com.
The tendency of consumers to consume news online and not buy a paper from the kiosk on the corner has caused print sales and the newspaper’s advertising revenues to drop. Social media offers a very important communication channel and therefore more and more organisations are trying to implement it in the hope of getting a slice of the cake and obtain a sustainable position in an increasingly volatile market sphere.
This leaves the newspapers with some major challenges: One is how to capitalize upon Social Media? I did a quick search and did not find one single major paper that does not have a Facebook fanpage. But how big is the benefit actually? Does it make readers go out and buy the paper? Probably not. Therefore they need to start getting creative and find ways to make money by using Facebook. Currently Facebook probably makes a lot more money with the newspapers’ content than vice versa.
The introduction of Social Media has made it even easier for the audience to share, like and criticise any type of information that they consume, which leaves the newspapers with another challenge: not losing control of their own content. All of us can just comment on everything the newspapers put out on Twitter or Facebook and start a whole new discussion. This can be scary and demands editors to get into a dialogue with the readers.
I do not have an answer to my question raised above. As I obviously do not know where the world of Social Media is going, I cannot know its limits. For people working within Social Media, this implies infinite opportunities. For companies it implies uncertainty and an unknown sphere. I guess I just have to wait and see.