Newspapers and publishers must adopt new methods of delivering news in the face of a lesser hardcopy circulation, shorter attention spans and an increasingly digitally-focused consumer base, according to experts at the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) Middle East Conference in Dubai.
The conference - now in its 11th edition - brings together approximately 200 publishers, CEOs, managing directors, chief editors and other senior media executives from around the region to discuss the challenges the industry faces and how to best adapt to confront them in the future.
A major theme of the first day of the conference was ways in which newspapers must transform to meet the needs of an audience which is increasingly turning to mobile and other digital platforms to digest the news.
"There will continue to be an orientation towards digital media. The accelerated rhythm of life does not allow people to read as they once did," said Shaikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, the chairman of Sharjah Media Council. "We must work with that future in mind. But we are also responsible for protecting the heritage and history [of newspapers]."
The event's keynote speaker was Michael Golden, vice-chairman of the New York Times (NYT) Company, which now boasts 1.1 million digital-only subscribers, in addition to about a million print subscribers, the overwhelming bulk of whom also take advantage of the newspaper's digital services.
"We are trying our hardest to move from a newspaper that has a website, to a digital company that has a newspaper," he said. "Print is critically important to us, and I believe we will be printing newspapers for maybe two more generations. But our media is facing a day when it will be 100 per cent digital."
"If we don't get ready for that, we won't be part of that world," he added. "That world is difficult, it operates under different rules, and it has different economics."
Golden noted that the NYT has found it vital to find innovative ways to use digital media to present news. "[Digital] is much more than a delivery technology," he said. "That's a fundamental change in mindset, from a focus on print. Instead of everyone at our company, including our journalists, thinking about print, they need to rethink what is a story, and what is journalism on the web. It's much more than it is in print. It has to include photography, video, infographics, multimedia. Consumers today more and more expect that..it's what they respond to."
As an example, Golden noted that the NYT's six-part Pulitzer Prize winning piece Snowfall used a variety of multimedia methods to tell the story of a deadly avalanche in Washington state.
"The story recreated the mountain, recreated the way the avalanche would go, it brought readers in," he said. "In this world of shortened information and attention spans, readers went from beginning to end of this long piece on their smartphones and on their computer, as well as in the newspaper."
Golden said that despite his belief that newspapers would continue to be printed for some time, their eventual disappearance and total shift towards digital is inevitable.
"It [newspapers] is in decline, both in advertising and circulation, and I do not believe that decline will turn around. I believe what we are talking about is the rate of decline, not whether the decline will end and the profitability, the advertising revenue and the circulation will begin to increase. I do not believe that will happen," he said. "It doesn't respond to what people want today."
"We [the NYT] make sure that the print newspaper we put out is excellent. We continue to invest in it, market it, sell it and build new subscriptions," he added. "But it's digital that we have to be focused on, because that's our future."
Media trends to expect in 2016
> Rise of distributed content via social platforms
> Improved use of data in newsrooms and for revenue generation
> Increasing use of ad blockers and a response from publishers
> Native advertising
> More paid content
> Growth of online video and decline of linear TV
> Virtual reality
> Wearable technology as a tool for push notifications
> Automated content or "robo journalism"
Digital media closing in on newspaper revenue
> In 2014, newspapers made $92 billion in circulation revenue and $87 billion in advertising revenue.
> WAN-IFRA research shows that for every dollar gained in digital revenue in American newspapers, seven are lost in print revenue.
> In 2014, digital circulation went up 45 per cent to 2.5 billion globally.
By Bernd Debusmann
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