Technological Advancements threaten the Future of Newspapers

by Jumoke Giwa


A decade ago, the amount of digital and online publishing driven by profit and consumerism was relatively small. Today, over 80% of all hard copy publications have online and digital versions. Ten years from now, that percentage may rise to 100. All traditional publishing activities will be supplemented by digital versions, which will be promoted more favourably. Flash forward into the next century and one can say that if stakeholders in traditional publishing do not rise to save the industry from extinction, hardcopy newspapers will disappear into the dustbins of history. Further innovations in technology will silence the voice of hardcopy newspapers completely.

Williams (2003) informed us that “at the start of the twenty-first century the issue of the media and globalization is at the forefront of the debates in the field of media studies” (p.11). The print media faces challenges of survival as online and digital services are touted to take its place in the next century. The influx of digital and online services such as the internet, MP3 players, cell phones with internet access, blogs, online versions of newspapers, etc., has led news consumers to rely more increasingly on obtaining information from these online and digital sources.

Media executives who attended the 2005 world association of newspapers meeting in Madrid were advised that newspapers have no future without online and digital services (“Internet holds future”, 2005). The conference was titled “Beyond the printed word.”

In this paper,references to digital and online services referto the new forms of media centered around the internet and/or accessed through personal gadgets like PDA’s, iPOD’s, MP3’s, cell phones, etc, which can be used to access news. Subjects excluded from the category of new media in this paper also include electronic mass media, represented by television, radio, satellite, and cable.

New media v. old media


“New media,” as a label, is approximately a decade old, but the prediction of its sweeping influence predates it. Williams (2003) states, “since the early 1980s there has been an unparalleled growth of global media. New media technologies… are compressing time and space… the world is shrinking.” (p.213). Marshall McLuhan also lends his voice, arguably the most vocal and widely recognized, to this prediction, proposing that the global village was a reconstruction of the communal world of the ancient village torn asunder by the print media (Williams). Nicholas Negroponte, one of the advocates of the brave new digital world, sums up the potential for change:

Early in the next millennium your right or left cufflinks or earrings may communicate with each other by low-orbiting satellites and have more computer power than your present PC. Your telephone won’t ring indiscriminately; it will receive and perhaps respond to your incoming calls like a well-trained English butler. Mass media will be re-defined by systems for transmitting and receiving personalized information and entertainment (Williams, p.227).

For the purposes of this paper, old media, traceable to the late 1400’s, is represented by hardcopy newspapers. Newspapers have the unique capacity of transmitting enormous amounts of information over long distances and are very responsive to cultural changes. Newspapers look to the future. They have over the centuries afforded consumers longevity, durability, historical evidence, and opportunity for record keeping and referencing. Newspapers have however been fraught with challenges; “one of the biggest challenges that print faces is a lack of accountability and transparency for claimed circulation” (Abplanalp, 2005, p.14).

Concentration of media ownership

Concentration of media ownership is one of the factors driving the exigency to replace hardcopy newspapers with digital versions. Concentration of media ownership has been a major influence in determining the five W’s and one H of publishing for several decades. “Herman and Machesney (1997: Chapter 5) argue the convergence of the media, computer and telecommunications markets and the de-regulation and privatization of the media industries around the world are encouraging the further concentration of ownership… The merger between Time Warner and America Online (AOL) in 2000 indicates that in a market-driven system, control of new technology will be dominated by large media conglomerates, only now they will be larger than before” (Williams, 2003, p.93).

Also, the quest for profit by media tycoons may have shifted to new media. They see new media as potentially large profit centers, especially among the younger target demographic groups. The tycoons do not really care if history is destroyed or if integrity is preserved once their bottom-line is sealed. Williams (2003), quoting Herman and McChesney, advises us that “the future of new media is, according to political economists, ‘a subject to be determined by politics, not technology’ (p.93).

Documented research now reveals what industry watchers have hitherto known about new media’s growing competition with the old. eMarketer stated that “while total media spending will rise a modest 5% in 2005, internet spending will catapult 34%” (as cited in Oser, 2005, p.70).

The battle for newspapers to stay afloat is also being lost on the advertising grounds. Advertising is the backbone of the publishing industry. Advanced media operations can hardly survive without advertising revenue. If advertisements meant for old media are directed to the new, then media owners’ insatiable appetite for profit will shift resources, personnel, and attention to the new media. Media Asia (2005) has warned “As for the future, I hope print advertising can rebound, because budgets are being allocated to other media and competition for budget is tough” (p.11).

Bugeja (2005) erases doubts about whose interest is served as online and digital services overshadow traditional newspaper publishing. He observed that “lines blur in the new media world. The only line that doesn’t is the bottom one: profit” (p.31).

Factors influencing the upward curve in new media

Participatory journalism is a leading factor in why new media is steadily overtaking newspapers in news delivery and consumption. Participatory journalism is barely a year old, yet it is embraced by professional journalists, media moguls, and industry experts alike. “2005 was the year that much of the mainstream media began embracing participatory journalism.” (Marshall, 2005, p.14). Asian and European media are the leading markets for consumption of this new phenomenon which seem like a re-invention of journalism. Marshall (2005) advises further that “the crown jewel of participatory journalism is South Korea’s The online news organization, which boasts more than 700,000 daily readers, has 54 staff reporters and editors, but at least 70 percent of its content comes from 39,000 citizen reporters. It’s new international edition has 300 citizen reporters…These participatory journalism sites offer intense local coverage that big newspapers and broadcast stations don’t always provide” (p.14).

Advocates of citizen journalism are quick to point out that “participatory journalism builds trust. This is a way for us to say we don’t know everything,” (Safran, as cited in Marshall, 2005, p.15). This raises the question of how much trust can a reader build on reports that are produced by neophytes? Maher lends his voice to this concern. He posits that news reported by citizen journalists, “…without going through any editorial process that validates the information, it isn’t true journalism,” (as cited in Marshall, 2005, p.16).

Blogging is another phenomenon affecting the survival of hardcopy newspapers. Brady (2005) in examining blogging, says “the rise of easy-to-use software has put a printing press in the hand of every citizen. No longer can anyone be denied a seat at the table, and those of us in the mainstream press deny that at our own peril” (p.66). In 2005, blogging’s growth led news reporters and publications to source information from blogs and include same in their publications. News events can be accessed in the same instant that they occur. “The digital generation that grew up using the web and playing video games expects its media to be interactive and is turning away from traditional ways of getting the news” (Marshall, 2005, p.15). Reading a newspaper doesn’t seem to hold value for this society anymore. The worth a reader gets from reading a newspaper, knowing the information was researched and proofread by trained professionals has been traded for instant gratification. Brady (2005) sums up why this change may be irreversible, “the natural advantages of each medium have blurred in cyberspace” (p.66).

Economic, socio-political, and cultural factors

Political economy asserts the production of media products… is structurally constrained by economic and political factors, especially the private ownership of media industries (Williams, 2003).

Murdock and Golding believe “the mass media are first and foremost industrial and commercial organizations which produce and distribute commodities” (as cited in Williams, 2005, p.56). Media owners are striving to answer the call to uphold the tenets of journalism and preserve heritage in hardcopy newspaper publication. The attempts to resist the changes that are coming as hardcopy newspapers bow to their online and digital versions may not be favourable for the print media industry. McGuire speaks to this when he proposes that “it’s time newspaper corporation CEOs and publishers come to grips with history – the history they are writing. Those executives must start imagining that if newspapers are indeed in the death throes, it is they who will be judged. The media history books could well show them watching their industry die for a few percentage points of profit” (as cited in Bugeja, 2005, p.33).

The socio-political factors are overt. Weber believes “the web has the advantage of allowing people to distribute news without needing to buy printing presses or build television studios, thus requiring less revenue to be profitable” (as cited in Marshall, 2005, p.15). Gordon thinks “if you believe in a democratic society and freedom of the press, I don’t see how you can look at citizen journalism and say it’s a bad thing. It’s the most democratic system of publishing ever” (as cited in Marshall, 2005, p.16).

McLuhan and Fiore say “by breaking down the barriers of time and space between people and nations, some argue the media are creating one global family where differences are submerged in favour of what we share, what we have in common… Electronic communications are producing an environment in which people are ‘involved with, and responsible for, each other’” (as cited in Williams, 2003, p.214).


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