Some interesting comments were made in response to my piece on Journalism’s chicken and egg conundrum while I was on holiday, so I here are some follow-up thoughts.
Fra Paolo takes issue with my assertion that readers became “bored”. I’d stick with the term “bored” – readers became bored because what was offered wasn’t original or engaging. There wasn’t much to distinguish one publication from another, and the basic template wasn’t that interesting. Markets decline for the reasons you mention too, but boring products played a part. Exciting new ideas can still be interesting when they are mainstream, so I don’t agree that the critique doesn’t take account of this.
He makes an interesting point when referring to James Murdoch’s speech last week about how the BBC shapes the debate, saying “maybe viewers and listeners would prefer the licence fee not to be spent on new media content, especially if the money improved the old media service. There’s a debate we’ve never had.” It’s certainly a debate that would be useful, and one I want to return to. I wonder what people’s thoughts are?
Fra Paolo concludes “Why should the Internet supply more than headlines? Because it can? That’s a stupid reason.” I’d say the answer to the first question is “because it does”, which changes the shape of the debate.
Tom Davies says: “There’s also the less-discussed issue that advertisers, more than journalists, have found the internet a harder thing to adapt to.” An astute point.
We need to be more specific about what we are debating. Sometimes we talk about means of communication and interacting with an audience, and sometimes we talk about commercially viable or successful means of communication. There are three separate concepts there. Of course, each one can overlap to a certain extent with either of the others. But there are important differences.
I still think what is at the heart of my original post is valid. Too many print publications prioritised the needs of advertisers when they should have been prioritising the needs of readers. The result has been that readers have drifted away because they are not being properly catered for, while advertisers have found other mediums in which to advertise. In the clearest example of the error of prioritising advertisers, the falling reader numbers prompted in part by this strategy are themselves a major reason why advertisers are looking elsewhere.
All the talk of value rarely valued journalism – of whatever type. Hence the crisis of confidence among journalists. But if we don’t value journalism, why should anyone else? I still say people are prepared to support – financially or otherwise – a quality product. And I don’t use the term “quality” in an elitist way. Developing technology means we have more and better ways of producing that quality. The future of journalism will be shaped by producers and consumers together, and not by continuing to allow narrow definitions of “commercial reality” to masquerade as scientific fact.