Barack Obama’s mantra may have gone stale, but it has now been adopted by the media world. The widespread economising and downsizing of newsrooms has even affected the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, The Observer. Two weeks into its slimmed down relaunch, it has cooked up a storm with the extracts from Andrew Rawnsley’s new book, End of the Party.
It’s easy to look at the measures implemented at The Observer (voluntary redundancies, scrapping of music and sport magazines) and surmise that this is a newspaper sentenced to failure. However, look more closely, and what you’ll see is a newspaper that is down, but not yet out. John Mulholland and his editorial team have clearly realised that there is little place for breaking news in print. Consequently they have slimmed down the news section and expanded the analysis, features and comment to be found in The Observer.
Will Sturgeon, founder of The Media Blog agrees:
“They’ve boosted the prominence of opinion and comment. Relaunching with revelations from Andrew Rawnsley’s book signalled this intent most clearly. That is the only way the papers will mitigate the fact the news game is entirely lost to online”
Find your niche. That’s what writers are incessantly told. Now it seems newspapers will have to do the same. Those who value breaking news will always find it somewhere on the internet, something that paywalls cannot stop. But what newspapers can offer is good content in abundance. Well written commentaries and adventurous features are to be found primarily within newspapers, and not exclusively online.
“The Telegraph’s expenses story and the subsequent spike in its circulation shows us the value of quality content. Anything where speed is a pre-requisite will break first online. However, quality content will never go out of fashion”
A media prediction, if I dare be so bold: We’ll see organisations focusing solely on what they’re best at. For The Observer, this is investigation and opinion. For Sky News, this is, and always has been, breaking news. We’ll see the breakdown of newspapers as an universal authority, instead visiting a variety of outlets for what tickles our fancy.
So where to go now? The Guardian is one newspaper who’ve broached the subject of paywalls more than most. Alan Rusbridger and Emily Bell (Director of Digital Content) are resounding in their opposition of paywalls, believing them to be against the core principles of what the paper stands for.
Guardian.co.uk receives 37 million users a month. If half of those could be persuaded to pay a paltry monthly subscription fee…well, the finance department at Guardian News & Media would look a lot more chirpy. Frequently hailed as a design success, The Guardian now need to convert this brilliant layout into a viable commercial model. Being one of the first nationals online brings merits in the form of knowing what works and what doesn’t, but where they go from here is anyone’s guess.
The second big publication to address the issue is the New York Times. It’s better positioned than most to tackle the issue of charging for content, having access to an army of commentators, reporters and analysts. The system that’s to be implemented would allow readers to access a certain number of articles free per month, and then request payment for more.
This crucially allows other websites and blogs to link to the New York Times without being blocked out by a paywall, something that interests Paul Bradshaw:
“This makes a link to the New York Times valuable in itself. If you run a blog, you’re more likely to link to the New York Times. Even if the paywall scheme doesn’t actually make them any money directly, it could drive valuable traffic to the website”
The message seems to be Adapt or Die, both on a personal and organisational level. A bleak future (as chorused by every other media blog ad nauseum) certainly, but it’s good to see a few well known publications taking their first tentative steps in addressing a new business model.