The digital revolution and the future of newspapers

The Internet has created a sea of changes across every aspect of human life. We have been utterly transformed in a way that would be absolutely mind boggling a mere two generations ago.

The Internet has created a sea of changes across every aspect of human life. We have been utterly transformed in a way that would be absolutely mind boggling a mere two generations ago.

Today a stupendous amount of information is available at the click of a mouse. We have entered a kind of digital nirvana and we have become so accustomed to it that we take it for granted. It is remarkable how easily we adapt to massive change.

It has certainly changed the way we read and process news. Today there are millions of online news sources ranging from blogs to Twitter, in addition to the internet presence of print media.

So what does this mean for newspapers? Any respectable newspaper will have a presence on the web, but the vast majority have had to offer their material to readers for free.

Needless to say, this often undercuts the need to buy the newspaper in its physical form. The few that are either partly or fully-subscriber based have to have the kind of iconic and market presence to justify charging for their articles as The Wall Street Journal and The Economist do.

Most media houses know that an attempt to introduce a subscriber model will end with their customer being driven away.

Some are trying desperately to buck this trend like Rupert Murdoch who has a massive media empire that stretches across several continents.

Murdoch recently suggested that he would begin to charge online consumers accessing the online material of his newspapers.

It is a move that would never work in the developing world, not only because of the aforementioned presence of free alternatives but because the ability to pay online is virtually non-existent.

The potential demise of the newspaper in its physical form fills me with sadness. When I was a child, I used to watch my father reading the newspaper with awe. To my young mind, reading the paper was the epitome of adulthood and maturity and a sign that you were ‘plugged in’ to the rest of the world.

It also suggested some kind of mystical prestige. As geeky as it sounds, one of my aspirations as a child was to one day be able to sit down and read the entire newspaper from cover to cover.

A newspaper still holds the same prestige and thrill for me. I relish the fact that there are endless alternatives online, but it would be tremendously sad if market realities begin to force newspapers to re-evaluate their very existence.

It strikes me also that newspapers are losing their aura of authority as news providers. The concept of objective news reporting is becoming obsolete and people now seem to prefer opinion blogs that cater to their particular prejudices. 

The ugly cyberspace battle during the recent US presidential election was a salient reminder of this fact. 24 hour news channels have also done a lot to undermine the importance of newspapers, but having a mere visual catalogue of the news somehow strikes me as less fulfilling than reading it.

Maybe I am unduly worried about the state of this venerable institution, but the digital revolution has rewritten the rules of the game.

The author is a lawyer

minega_isibo@yahoo.co.uk

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