Thoughts

Newspaper caterpillars reborn as subscription butterflies, a tale of the west.

Most people are consuming news and information from their personal social media feeds, while the ones that are serious venture out into the internet sites for a particular news item that they have just googled. Consequently, newsprint all over the world, but more prominently in the western world, seems to be on a steep decline. This decline has been going on since a long time thanks to the advancements of technology which have enabled faster dissemination of news and it’s various derivatives. If one goes chronologically, first came the radio, followed by televisions, and then the internet.

Newspapers adjusted well with radio and tv which essentially made news instantaneous, but they came with their own deficiencies. They were constraining streams providing no option to customize, you could at the most change the channel. The advertisements became intrusive and drama that comes with any audio-visual rendition challenged the veracity of the proffered material. Newspapers on the other hand provided choice to the reader. In print, the intonation and the impact of the news rests solely on the consumer and his beliefs or prejudices making it appear more genuine, more reliable. Advertisements in newsprint were, and still are, not just the silent inhabitants of news-space, but in their sub-textual, subliminal presence they have been and still might be more impactful than any intrusive popup on your web page, even if it is page-ranked based on the best algorithm that takes into consideration, your preferences, browser history and probably even hormones that rage in your body.

With faster and broad spectrum broadcasting, the radios and tvs didn’t have motivation for interpretative journalism, news analysis and the debates were mostly unstructured and were driven by the whims and reactions of the participants and the watchers. Newspapers provided this missing piece with their long format interpretations, opinions and editorials. Instead of the profusion of events occurring all over the world, or locally, in every nook and corner of the city, newspapers had to choose the best or the most noteworthy keeping the medium still relevant even when it came to news reporting.

The digital challenge however rendered the ever adapting, or the never have had to adapt beyond their comfort zone newsprint houses, clueless and left them baffled. People not only got what they felt and chose as relevant, but they got it for free. News was no more bundled and didn’t need remotes to surf away from. The whole piece was in one page, with the sidebar ads of course, but still one felt focused on the matter under consideration, and then it could be shared with other people with a click. The circulation of the local papers hit rock bottom while the big houses saw even their trusted, even the elderly readers dwindling away. The future of journalism was now in the hands of Facebook, and then Twitter. Players like BuzzFeed flourished with their digitally funky presentations, and the liberal HuffPost with its commentaries and blogs that gave a fresher, crisper perspective attracted heavy traffic.

So what did the newspapers do?

Some have embraced the new age by offering free news and asking for donations to fund what they are calling true journalism. Others, which is most of the big names, have gone for direct confrontation with the digital news heavyweights by launching their websites. These websites, which keep evolving are governed by algorithms rather than editors, by real-time analytics rather than retrospective boardroom meetings, by listism rather than journalism. But the business model chosen has been of subscription, which at the outset was deservedly mocked at by the gurus and media analysts. In the long run though, it seems to be working while the funky digital media, like everything funky seems to be coming to its end of life too soon, if only because its consumers are attracted to the next best thing, things like Twitter and even Instagram while the ones looking for genuine news didn’t mind paying the annual subscription for enriched content, now searchable, browsable and expandable for in-depth analysis and insights, all with the familiar clicks in the attractive websites of old guard news media houses.

It’s this fickleness and the restlessness of the new world human beings that comes as a boon to new ideas and inventions in the soft spaces of the internet, but they don’t live long thanks to the same qualities. Facebook for example changed its newsfeed algorithms so that more updates from friends and relatives started appearing as compared to professional publishers, taking down a string of these companies that had banked much upon FB for its success. It is ironical that in this digital world that is more connected, more covered and more explored, every new day for new content, what makes news are the tweets by Trumps, Putins and Modis. These tweets are themselves so entertaining and savvy that people don’t miss BuzzFeed, FB feeds, HuffPost to add more color and spice, what they need is the conventional, reliable stalwarts to provide them the background, the motivation and the implications of these tweets.

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Q&A

Q: Why am I writing this?

A: I asked my paperwala, the guy who delivers the morning newspaper at each door of each flat in my apartment, to stop the deliveries. It is because I no longer get time in the mornings to sit with a newspaper and go through the news. It is mostly done on internet, while I commute, while I work or when I come back from office.

The first post inspired by my decision to say goodbye to newspaper was When the roses turned orange.

But I thought this topic deserved more of my blog-space. I started writing about the situation in India but research got me distracted to articles in NYT, New Yorker, The Guardian and HuffPost. Therefore I start with the tale of the west, east will follow.

Next Q: probably in the comments section

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