The Big Question: Is Print Media on its Way to Becoming Obsolete?

August 2017: The Big Question: Is Print Media on its Way to Becoming Obsolete? (News Line Magazine)

These are interesting times for journalism as technological advancements are driving the process of how people receive news. Today, the global public has a variety of options through which it can access information. In the last decade, the digital media has expanded and is gradually overtaking newspapers. Journalists, editors and media barons across the globe are wondering what this might spell for the future of print media. One thing is clear: the news business has been disrupted and a centuries-old tradition stands challenged and needs to adapt to imperatives of the digital age.

For instance, in the United States, many newspapers have shelved print editions and gone completely digital. According to a recent report by the PEW Research Center, The New York Times witnessed a 47 per cent annual rise in its digital subscriptions, while the Wall Street Journal saw a 23 per cent rise in digital subscriptions. The overall daily circulation of newspapers in the US declined by 8 per cent in the same period – driven largely by a 10 per cent decline in week-day print circulation. While the larger newspapers are reinventing themselves in the US, Europe and elsewhere, it is the local papers that have been hit the hardest by this transition. One of the key debates in the United States after the 2016 Presidential Election, was the stifling of local news, thereby keeping much of America unaware that Trump’s populism had deeper roots than many assumed.

Similarly, the number of professional journalists has also decreased in many advanced countries. Citizen journalists and bloggers are increasingly replacing reporters as society chooses to produce content for itself. And foreign bureaus are being closed with increased reliance on stringers and new media resources. Yet, the scope of investigative journalism – the hallmark of print media – stays relevant and continues to expand.

People still expect print newspapers to disseminate the truth and be at the forefront of public investigative reporting on current affairs. But the old business model is unworkable. Another example was the shutting down of the print version of the British newspaper The Independent. It has gone digital. This allows for a critical opportunity for the print media to evolve and transform into a newer, hybrid form that caters to consumption trends and technology without compromising on the vitals of journalism – field reporting and human interaction.

Digital media is increasingly setting the news agenda, both globally and somewhat slowly in Pakistan. To survive and retain their audience, the print media will have to drive the news cycle. An investigative story, or a peek into covert decision-making processes splashing on the front page of a newspaper should become the norm for the print industry to retain its historic edge. Some recent examples of print media driving the news cycle are The New York Times and The Washington Post publishing investigative stories about the Trump administration, which have forced Congress and the Justice Department to set up inquiries.

In Pakistan, DAWN published an exclusive investigative story on civil-military tensions on security issues during the fall of 2016. The story triggered a political storm and drove the news cycle for days, while the crisis lingered on for months. This shows that newspapers are and will remain relevant. In South Asia, where the electronic medium has gained ascendancy, the public still needs verified in-depth information that a short-lived TV show cannot provide.

Nearly three months ago, I started my current stint at the Daily Times. It is a huge challenge to frame the newspaper and keep it relevant, given how all the news reaches the public quickly through news channels which function 24/7. It’s a struggle to keep the paper relevant and informative in such an environment. Twitter and Facebook have taken over breaking news as well. Yet, the detailed investigative stories in the past few months have made their impact and influenced debates on TV and social media. All said and done, the shelf life of print is far longer than a soundbyte or a 140 characters-long microblog.