What is the future of newspapers?

With the growth of online,
will newspapers like this exist for much longer?
Can you remember the last time you read a newspaper cover to cover?

I mean, the entire newspaper?

I can – it was this year’s ANZAC Day public holiday. I walked up to the local cafĂ©, bought a copy of The Australian, ordered a coffee which came in a soup bowl, and read.

It was exhausting work. I needed a public holiday, an hour and a half, and a soup-sized coffee just to get through one newspaper.

Furthermore, in an age where news is thrust at us in every direction, 24 hours a day, most of the frontpage headlines I read that day were, essentially, old news.

However, what drew my attention each time were the articles that went beyond the headlines. Articles that offered insightful and fresh analysis were by far and away the most interesting.

For example, Laura Tingle is a pre-eminent political journalist. Her Friday articles in The Australian Financial Review offer sharp analysis of what is going on behind the scenes in parliament house.

On the front page of a newspaper, you might read that Tony Abbott said no to something or the Prime Minister announced something she’d previously promised not to implement.

Fast forward to Tingle’s articles and you’ll get the more important information: why.

I reckon this is the area newspapers can offer something the more immediate news networks can’t – proper analysis.

In fact, I’ve long been of the opinion that newspapers need to change their style in order to survive.

30 years ago you had to wait for the newspapers to appear on the newsstands to discover the latest news of the day. Until that moment, you probably had no idea what was ‘making news’.

However, perhaps newspapers aren’t dying the quick death I believed would befall them.

A report from The Economist last week showed that, in 2010, worldwide newspaper circulation dropped a mere dropped 1.7%.

Furthermore, advertising revenue, which many commentators are claiming as the biggest threat to newspapers, dropped only 3%.

Lindsay Lohan's credibility
disappeared pretty fast
I found this extraordinary. All I hear about newspapers is that circulation is plummeting and advertising revenue is disappearing faster than Lindsay Lohan’s credibility.

Clearly there is still a hunger to read newspapers and, therefore, an appeal to advertise in them.

I still maintain that newspapers need to change their focus. Prominent USA sports journalist, Bill Simmons, wrote on the future of newspapers:

“The emphasis is on quantity over quality and immediacy over accuracy; the newspapers have made it worse by trying to speed up their immediacy online over just kicking everyone’s asses with better writing and reporting. Newsmakers can control stories about themselves by selectively dispersing relevant information as well as who gets to talk to them (and for what reason). And too many writers are more interested in just saying what they have to say instead of crafting the way they are saying it.”

In other words, by stepping up the quality and depth of their reporting and analysis, newspapers can consolidate their place in the market.

However, if they keep trying to compete for immediacy and punching out headlines, it may not be long before those circulation and revenue numbers fall off a very steep cliff.