Edward Lloyd: 100 years before Murdoch, the father of English tabloid journalism



Edward Lloyd founded the first million-selling newspaper.
William Morris Gallery, Waltham Forest Council

Rohan McWilliam, Anglia Ruskin University

We live at probably the last moment when press barons such as Rupert Murdoch can hope to shape the political agenda, such are the waning fortunes of the print media. But who founded the popular press – and who created the sensationalist approach of the tabloids?

Some say it was Lord Northcliffe, who established the Daily Mail in 1896. Northcliffe was, however, preceded by the transformative figure of Edward Lloyd. Never heard of him? Lloyd (1815-1890) has never been given his due. He published the first newspaper to sell a million copies and shaped the popular imagination in fundamental ways.

Before he became a Victorian press baron, Lloyd was one of the dominant forces behind the sale of popular fiction to a growing market of increasingly literate working-class people. When we think of the 1840s, we think of the publication of major novels such as Jane Eyre or Vanity Fair. The reality is that many readers were as likely to consume Ada the Betrayed as well as Vileroy, or, The Horrors of Zindorf Castle – both shockers issued by Lloyd’s publishing house.

It might have been a penny dreadful, but it was very popular in its day.
AMazon

Hailing from a humble background, Lloyd became a leading publisher in London, promoting a group of hacks who would knock out cheap fiction. He knew what would sell: horrors, romance and thrills.

He launched a wave of “penny dreadfuls” on to the market in the 1830s and 1840s, all assisted by lurid pictures. As Lloyd exclaimed to his illustrators: “There must be blood … much more blood!”

The best known of these stories was The String of Pearls in 1846 which introduced the enduring character of Sweeney Todd. Even before the serial had finished publication, Sweeney Todd had been taken up by the popular stage.

Sweeney Todd origin story.
Amazon

Audiences loved the barber who murdered men who came to his Fleet Street shop for a shave and gave their bodies to Mrs Lovett next door to be made into meat pies. The dark humour is captured in the words of one character who says: “I’d eat my mother, if she was a pork chop.”

This was not the only ghoulish character to emerge from Lloyd’s offices. James Malcolm Rymer wrote Varney the Vampire for Lloyd, the most important undead character before Dracula. This was a form of distinctly working-class horror fiction, marked by a taste for blood and violence.

Nicking Dickens

Lloyd had no time for originality. He built up his firm by publishing plagiarisms of Charles Dickens’s works. The reading public was thus treated to works such as The Penny Pickwick, Oliver Twiss and Nickelas Nickelbery. Dickens was outraged by this treatment but was powerless to prevent such works appearing.

It is possible that many working-class readers first encountered Dickens via a Lloyd plagiarism, rather than one of the author’s own works (a perspective that should make us rethink the initial reception of Dickens).

Dickens plagiarised: the cover of the Edward Lloyd rip-off of Oliver Twist.:
source goes here, Author provided

Cheap newspapers came to dominate Lloyd’s output. Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper was launched in 1842 and became one of the most important newspapers aimed at a popular readership at a time when the press had been forced since 1819 by the government to pay stamp duties (the “Taxes on Knowledge”) which inflated the price of print. He combined serious news reporting with stories of horrible murders, train crashes and aristocratic divorces. In some respects, his newspaper employed the techniques of popular fiction to grab an audience with accounts of true crime.

Lloyd also revolutionised newspaper production by introducing Richard Hoe’s rotary press to Britain, which sped up the process of putting out newspapers and made mass publication possible. With the abolition of the stamp and paper duties by the early 1860s, Lloyd was able to lower the price of his paper to one penny. The popular press had arrived.

Yellow press

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper was one of a series of mass circulation Sunday papers, including The News of the World (issued in 1843), which created a newspaper reading habit in increasingly literate workers.

Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper, from 1891.

Lloyd was also a great believer in self-promotion. At one point he took to embossing coins with which he paid his workers with a stamp promoting his paper. This was denounced by The Times and an act of parliament had to be passed in 1853, making the defacing of the coinage illegal.

As his newspaper became more popular, Lloyd left his penny dreadfuls behind and was later embarrassed that they had been the source of his fortune. His paper tended to support Gladstone and the Liberal party, helping it to dominate mid-Victorian politics. The Conservative Party identified Lloyd’s as promoting “pernicious doctrines”, which included worker rights, free trade and democracy.

Lloyd died in 1890 but his newspaper remained popular, selling a million copies for the first time in 1896. As it went into the 20th century, the paper was outgunned by new rivals such as the Daily Mail and came to an end in 1931, having appeared for almost 90 years.

Lloyd’s reputation has gone into eclipse and he is seldom remembered. He was, however, a true pioneer. His legacy remains the sensationalism of the popular press but it can also be found in every slasher film, vampire drama and gothic romance from Twilight to the television series Penny Dreadful.The Conversation

Rohan McWilliam, Professor of Modern British History, Anglia Ruskin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Future of journalism: papers must deliver value – to readers not shareholders


Mark Bradley, University of Sheffield

The conflict that exists within the organisations that own Britain’s newspapers, and the strategies that they employ in running their businesses, was recently brought into sharp focus. One of the key regional players, Johnston Press, went from publicly-listed administration to a controversial, private rebirth within 24 hours, prompting a wider debate around the state of the industry.

The company, which owns major regionals such as The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post as well as the nationally popular i newspaper, announced on November 16 that it was in administration only to reveal the following day it had been bought out by its debtors and would continue to operate as before but under the new name of JPIMedia.

While it undoubtedly leaves the newspaper titles in a healthier financial position for now, whether or not any optimism will be long-lasting, given the state of the UK’s print newspaper market, is a matter of some conjecture.

In September 2018, I made a submission to the Cairncross Review – a government initiative to examine the options for securing a sustainable future for high quality journalism. The events of the past week have led me back to the following extract:

During the past decade of declining revenues, the traditional local news publishers have used a smoke and mirrors approach to mask their editorial cutbacks. News content has become more regionalised and less relevant, patch offices and receptions have been closing, while titles have continued to be branded as local. There are understandable business reasons for this happening, but these public limited companies have always had profits at their core, often prioritising their shareholders over their readers.

This tension remains at the heart of many newspaper companies – and it is also a parallel to the historic and counter-intuitive decision-making that still remains when it comes to print and web content.

If everyone in the industry – regional or national – knew then what they know now about the challenges faced with monetising their websites through a commercial base then I’m sure the landscape would be very different. The assumption that display advertisers, classifieds, property and motors would migrate seamlessly into digital was fatally flawed because the traditional media giants did not anticipate the competition that would spring up. They had no track record of overcoming it by making their own offerings better than the rest.

And while they were struggling to compete online, time and cash should have been reinvested into the printed products which, while on a declining sales trend, still remain profitable and well-read by certain key demographics.

What the events surrounding the Johnston Press have done is to complete a jigsaw whose outline was already well-known – that the eye-watering return on sales figures pocketed during the 1990s and 2000s were part of a recipe for the mess the industry now finds itself in.

Printing money

So what value remains in printing traditional newspapers, as opposed to an online-only approach favoured by titles such as The Independent?

There is plenty of evidence that demonstrates the continuing demise of print. But the value of print is not purely economic in nature, and should not be placed in a silo away from the value it brings to news brands as a whole.

There is a negative correlation between the popularity of a newspaper and the trust the reader has in it. If you were to place the sales and trust rankings of the main ten titles in the UK side-by-side you’d see the order turned on its head. Trust is a valuable commodity that not only gives credibility to the printed product but also pervades into the perception of the online offering of the same brand.

Take the Guardian. With one of the highest trust ratings for a national newspaper – and despite its relatively low print sales – it has been able to leverage that emotional attachment and use it to develop an online contribution scheme that will enable it to break even by April 2019. While the printed product may appear to be in decline, it still acts as a firm foundation for the overall news brand as it seeks to evolve.

Newspapers also remain an integral part of the profits in many media portfolios. Within Johnston Press, the printed offshoot of The Independent, the i newspaper, was the jewel in the crown, bought for £24m in 2016 and now being touted at a value of £60m. At a regional level, concentrating resources and a focus on print remains a core and profitable component of several groups, especially those in private ownership, such as Iliffe Media, which owns a range of local newspapers.

For the many

But the perceived value of the newspaper format should not be limited to the balance sheet – there is value for the reader, too. And sometimes it takes a holistic view to fully appreciate what this consists of. While the web may be ideal for delivering bespoke content that can be accessed via search, the newspaper allows people an opportunity for a deep dive into the news – not only reading the stories they are primarily concerned with, but stumbling across material they would never have known about otherwise.

Stories that educate and inform them about their community, their country, their world. Curated for them by trained professionals, rather than through the vagaries of any unregulated social platform. Providing what society needs rather than what an audience wants.

There is a compelling argument that printed newspapers will cease to exist, or may remain in existence as a niche offering. But freed from the shackles of shareholdings – and with a model that promotes a long-term sustainable future over short-term profits – there is an equally compelling argument that newspapers, and the journalism within them, can continue to be a universally valuable part of the media landscape for some time to come.The Conversation

Mark Bradley, Director of Postgraduate Studies, Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Scotland just bucked the print-is-dying trend with two new Sunday newspapers



File 20180919 158240 13bs3g8.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
What’s inside?
GingerInc

Tom Collins, University of Stirling

My first job as a trainee reporter was on a Sunday title. Sundays are a breed apart. We had contempt for our daily sister, were drunk until Thursday and staffed by some of some of the oddest journalists in town. Unsurprisingly, the paper doesn’t exist any more.

There is a different rhythm to newsgathering. Much of the Sunday paper has to be away early, with stories that won’t date. Front page leads have to be exclusives, it’s just too risky relying on events to bail you out – even in Northern Ireland in the 1980s where I was working. This is one reason why the sting and the “kiss-and-tell” are among Sunday staples.

If you are a Sunday paper news editor, you live in fear that the splash (the front page story) you have been nursing all week will leak to another title. The news business is a kleptocracy, and colleagues on your sister title are the enemy. All’s fair in love, war and newsgathering.

Promiscuous Sunday readers

Sunday newspaper readers are different, too. They still have a little time on their hands, and a desire to be entertained. They will frequently buy titles at odds with their daily habits: Guardian readers flirting with the Sunday Times; Sun readers, bereft of the News of the World, picking up the Sunday Mirror or heading “upmarket” to the Mail on Sunday.

Richard Walker, now editor of the Sunday National.
Newsquest

Sunday is also the day readers are tempted to take a second title; and in those parts of the UK the BBC euphemistically calls “the nations and the regions”, indigenous papers rub shoulders with the big London players from what is still called Fleet Street.

But as the economics of publishing a newspaper become increasingly challenging, stand-alone titles published once a week look like a luxury to the accountants who now run media organisations. So seven-day operations make sense. In 2012, Rupert Murdoch replaced the discredited News of the World with a Sunday edition of the Sun.

Heritage, politics and independent views

Newsquest executives in Scotland came to the same conclusion when they announced in August that the Herald – its daily broadsheet – was to run seven days a week. The victim was the Sunday Herald, then without an editor.

In normal circumstances, that would have been that. But this is Scotland, and Scotland is not normal. Newsquest’s problem was the Sunday Herald’s editorial support for Scottish independence. Taken down that road by its urbane editor, Richard Walker, the Sunday Herald was the lone media voice supporting independence in the 2014 referendum. Walker went on to become founding editor of the National – designed to tap into nationalist sentiment after the independence referendum.

The first front pages.
Newsquest

Although the Herald claims to be neutral on independence – even the dogs in the street know where it sits on the issue. It may not wear a sash and a bowler hat, but it is temperamentally unionist.

With the SNP now established as the natural party of government in Scotland, and with a second independence referendum on the political agenda, killing off the only Sunday in favour of Scotland as a sovereign nation would have displayed a distinct lack of pragmatism.

So, against the tide of consolidation, Newsquest’s single title was replaced by two. Say hello to the “neutral” Herald on Sunday in a racy tabloid livery, and the Sunday National – with Richard Walker again as launch editor.

What the papers say

It’s a brave move for both titles. It is notoriously difficult to persuade readers to change their habits. Can a Herald reader who is wedded to the Observer or Mail on Sunday be seduced back? And what about the fledgling National? It’s tough out there.

The journalism is solid, but – in the first two weeks at least – neither generated the front pages they needed to compete effectively. Rule 101 of a launch edition is to have an exclusive. The Herald’s “Lifeline to Scotland’s islands in jeopardy” did not cut it. The Sunday National led on “Boris ‘set to go for PM’ … and trigger Indyref2”. Billed as an “exclusive”, it was one of those exclusives nobody else would want.

Inside, the National was pacier than the Herald. Even Sundays need news, and it delivered. The internet sensation “giggling granny” was a classic Sunday read, and Jennifer Johnston’s big spread on Scotland’s postcode lottery for primary one parents deserved its prominence.

Foreign correspondent David Pratt brings insight, gravitas and an international perspective to the Sunday National’s broadsheet Seven Days section; its news and features agenda is not quite as unremittingly politically driven as the daily, though Nicola Sturgeon got star billing.

The Herald suffers most from the transition. In tabloid form, it’s like an ageing uncle wearing a baseball cap. The daily broadsheet can sell a story; on the tabloid, the squeezed-in lead barely makes a splash. Inside, the flow of news and features is clunky. “The Week” section, opening the paper, is a mess. A spread on Strictly Come Dancing up front jarred, and the big read on pages six and seven kills the pace up front.

That may change as the paper settles down. But it should be taken as a warning not to mess with the format of the daily, especially if trying to align the titles.

The lifestyle magazine shared between the two titles.
Newsquest

Oddly, both share the same sports coverage and an unbranded Sunday Life supplement. The National needs it to bulk up. It’s a catch-all lifestyle supplement that doesn’t have a clear sense of purpose. The papers also share David Pratt – a great journalist, but sharing writers and sections muddies the waters. Sundays need to be individualistic.

At their best, Sundays are distinctive, tribal and totally attuned to their readers. If they are to carve out a place for themselves, these two new Sundays are going to have to do more to break exclusives that set the agenda for the week ahead – and give Scottish readers the excuse they need to change their buying habits.The Conversation

Tom Collins, Senior lecturer, Communications, Media and Culture, University of Stirling

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Time for a ‘digital’ reality check on Fairfax and The New York Times


Merja Myllylahti

I think it’s time to take a reality check on the state of news publishers digital transformation. While digital revenue streams may be delivering, there’s still a strong reliance on print for revenue and research shows readers engage more with print.

Media economist Robert G. Picard. summarises well the key problem with digital transformation. He notes that as news publishers focus on growing digital revenue, they forget their customers and their needs.

He notes that while journalism institutions have embraced the challenge of monetising digital media and increase revenue, this “institutionally focused strategy is designed to serve institutional interests not improve its offerings”.

In fact, newspapers keep offering the wrong things to their audiences. In Picard’s words, they sell readers horses when they actually prefer sports cars.

I think his words also apply accurately to Fairfax Media. Its digital strategy is focused on increasing shareholder revenue, and has very little to do with its journalism or journalistic offerings.

My recent research focused on the digital strategies of Fairfax Media and The New York Times Co. While the two “journalism institutions” pursue different digital strategies, the outcomes for two newsrooms are somewhat different. The New York Times strategy is based on digital-only subscriptions, whereas Fairfax is betting on its digital property listing service (Domain).

The main difference between the two is that while The New York Times continues to invest in its newsrooms and expand internationally (it has journalists filing stories from over 150 countries), Fairfax continues to chop newsroom jobs. It’s currently planning to cut 25% its newsroom staff from its Australian flagship papers to save $A30 million.

Digital is growing, but so what?

In 2016 major newspapers in the United States saw strong growth in digital subscriptions: The New York Times recorded a 47% rise and The Wall Street Journal 23% growth, according to the recently published State of the News Media report by Pew Research Center.

However, the report also notes that “these gains did not translate into circulation growth for the industry overall” and the combined digital and print circulation of newspapers fell 8% – “marking the 28th consecutive year of declines”. Digital advertising revenue also declined, but the proportion of digital advertising revenue of total revenue grew to 29%, because print advertising income continued to decline.

Fairfax, currently in the midst of a bidding war among private equity firms, is still driven by digital revenue from Domain. But the management of the company changed its tune in February, in terms of its print strategy.

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood explained “while we have considered many options, the model we have developed involves continuing to print our publications daily for some years yet”, adding that “this is the best commercial outcome for shareholders based on current advertising and subscription trends”.

In May, media industry commentator Mark Westfield said that Hellman & Friedman, which is bidding for Fairfax’s media assets, “wouldn’t be interested in buying [Fairfax] unless they saw the assets of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review and Domain as good assets to maintain”.

The sale or closure of newspapers wouldn’t make sense as Fairfax is still print reliant in terms of its revenue, and the same applies to The New York Times. My research shows in 2016 Fairfax print still delivered 78.6% of revenue, while digital was only 21.4% of its total revenue. Digital advertising made 18.5% of the total revenue, and digital subscriptions 2.86% of total.

I also found in a six-year period from 2011 to 2016, digital revenue of Fairfax grew 69% and at the same time print & other revenue declined 31.5%.

In comparison, in a five-year period from 2012 to 2016 (when figures were available) The New York Times digital revenue grew 32% – more slowly than Fairfax’s, but its print revenue dropped less than Fairfax’s – 11.5%. In 2016, digital made 27.8% of its total revenue and print 72.2%. The New York Times also continues to be print reliant in terms of its revenue.

Recent studies by media scholars Neil Thurman and Iris Chyi & Ori Tenenboim suggest that print continues to be strong in terms of readership. A study of 11 British newspapers by Thurman shows that the readers spent more time with print newspapers than with the online edition.

In their study, Chyi and Teneboim found that the “(supposedly dying) print product still reaches far more readers than the (supposedly promising) digital product in these newspapers’ home markets”.

The ConversationIn the light of this, it can be argued that digital transformation is continuing, but being fully reliant on digital readers may be a myth – as academic Vincent Mosco puts it: “a captivating fiction, a promise unfulfilled and perhaps unfulfillable.”

Merja Myllylahti, Project manager and author for Journalism, Media and Democracy (JMAD) Research Center

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The story of the nosebleed decline of the newspaper industry told in pictures


David Glance, University of Western Australia

US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment in the information industries
US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The impact of the Internet on the newspaper industry has been starkly highlighted by a graph released by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. It shows how employment in that industry in the US has declined by 60% over the past 25 years, from 458,000 in 1990 to 183,000 in March 2016.

Number Newspapers in the US
Statista

This statistic reflects the decline both in the number of newspapers and the shift to reducing the number of journalists and other staff required to produce increasingly digital output from a newsroom. From 1990 to 2014, nearly 300 newspapers closed in the US.
What the data also shows is that at least part of the job decline in the newspaper industry has been taken up by the rapid growth in Internet publishing and broadcasting.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Numbers in the PR Industry
US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Another growth area in that time has been in the massive increase in the number of people working in public relations which peaked first in 2000 at the height of the Internet “Bubble” to regain those heights in the subsequent years.

The numbers are more stark than they appear because in that same time, overall employment has increased by 23% with the US labour market adding 35 million new jobs.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics Total US Employment
US Bureau of Labor Statistics

This data simply confirms what has been obvious to everyone that with a disappearing business model for print newspapers, there is little room for the industry as a whole to continue to the same degree. The consequences of this are again not really going to be that surprising because in the end, it will be dictated by newspapers, who become predominantly digital, can make money. For a very few, this may be through digital subscribers. The New York Times, one of the few news sites that may pull off this transition with over a 1.2 million digital subscribers, still loses money. For most other sites however, digital revenue will come from advertising, driven by the types of content that drives clicks.

The Internet has not just impacted the print newsroom however. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data also shows significant declines in both the magazine and book industries. Again, this decline has been driven by falling audiences and revenue in the switch from the more lucrative print market to digital.

The disruption of the paper-based media industries by the Internet hasn’t just been a question of doing the same thing with fewer people on a different medium. What has also changed is society’s need and desire for this specific type of content. The disruption of these industries isn’t a question of simply not moving quickly enough to adapt to a new presentation format, it is that the content produced has far less appeal to the current audience who are increasingly spending less time on news sites and more time accessing content through social media and in particular, as video.

The disruption of the news industry has been not so much like the shift from typewriters to computers but more like disappearance of the whaling industry as the products of that industry were no longer of importance to society and alternatives were found.

To that extent, all discussions of paywalls and the desperate but illusive search for alternative business models for news organisations are in the end going to prove redundant. It is hard to convince people to pay for something that they have simply decided they don’t want to buy. It is not that the public won’t pay for content on the Internet. They are only too happy to pay for video content through services like Netflix and other video streaming sites and for the equivalent services that stream music. News and opinion, on the other hand is something that increasingly is valued only when it is free.

The Conversation

David Glance, Director of UWA Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The death of newspapers – have we reached the tipping point?


Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

In a 2013 Monthly essay Eric Beecher warned of a looming “civic catastrophe” for Australia if the decline of newspapers continued as it had been in the preceding years. The Australian’s report on a Fairfax plan to dump print and go digital-only, as yet unimplemented but convincingly detailed in the leaked 2013 document prepared by management consultancy firm Bain & Co, suggest that such a move is, if not a certainty, highly probable in the foreseeable future.

News Corp’s only substantial competitor in the print journalism sector may be on the brink of giving up the ghost, as has long been speculated even by its natural supporters such as Beecher. If it does, hundreds more jobs will go, along with the many hundreds of experienced, skilled journalists and editors already shown the door by the company.

All of this comes in the wake of the UK Independent’s announcement last week of a move to exclusively digital publication. As with Fairfax, calamitous declines in print circulation at the Indy – a poster title for innovation and editorial independence in days long gone – have made such a move entirely rational from the financial perspective of its Russian proprietor.

Many newspapers in the US have made the transition from print to digital, in the hope of fixing the broken business models of the analogue age.

Many of us have already given up on newspapers, and won’t miss print if indeed it dies out as a mass media platform. We access our news on iPads, or mobile phones, or laptops, and find ourselves turning actual, real pages to read our journalism only in those rare – and becoming rarer all the time – situations where there is no internet access.

And by those digital means of communication and sharing we have access to more news and journalism than any previous generation ever did. I read more news, not less, because of the online revolution.

Also, I read the news from the UK, the US, indeed from wherever in the world I choose, just as easily as I could once buy the print edition of The Guardian in my old home town of Glasgow. More easily, since I don’t even have to leave the house to enter the globalised public sphere of fact-based content available to me and every other human being on the planet with access to an internet connection and a networked device.

My problem now is not that of accessing quality journalism – as many pessimists predicted it would become as a result of news industry turmoil – but how to filter and sift the vast quantity of journalism which is available to me from around the globe on an hourly and daily basis, so that I can manage the flow of useful information and make some sense of the world.

Fairfax’s newspapers may be dying, then, like those of The Independent and other companies which through bad management and poor decision-making blew the digital challenge. But news and journalism thrive as never before.

Returning to Beecher’s dire warnings of “civic catastrophe”, will we miss newspapers when they finally disappear?

Someone once cheekily speculated that, on current circulation trends, the death of newspapers would come sometime in the first quarter of 2034. Personally, I believe that print will survive as a niche medium, like vinyl records, for as long as there is a demand for the tactility of words stamped on dead trees. And for a long time yet there will be those who refuse to join the online era, or who cannot for various reasons.

And there will be content for which, for one reason or another, online dissemination is not optimal, or which does not need the internet to circulate. Print continues to expand in media markets such as India and many African countries, where digital infrastructure and online culture remain underdeveloped. Paper has its place, and will keep it for a while yet.

And as long as the resources and professional values required for what we think of as “quality” journalism make the transition to digital platforms, then we have little to fear from the death of newspapers in themselves.

It was Rupert Murdoch who declared something to the effect that “we are not in the business of printing words on dead trees”. Content is king, and newsprint is just a carrier medium, now passing into history like hot metal presses and lithographs before it. Journalistic content can be produced to just as high an editorial standard online as off, and the fetishisation of print misses the point.

The real concern about the future of Fairfax and other dysfunctional former print behemoths – as articulated by Beecher in his 2013 essay – is that in their rush to maximise profits they abandon this thing we call “quality” journalism, and the journalists required to produce it, to the detriment of the diversity and independence of Australia’s political culture.

New digital entrants such as the Guardian Australia, Daily Mail Australia and The Conversation, or local editions of Gawker and Buzzfeed, are picking up some of the slack created by an already hollowed-out Fairfax. But the domination of News Corp’s titles in the Australian news media environment can only become more pronounced if Fairfax’s decline continues to the point where its print titles disappear entirely.

The Murdoch empire has invested more, and adapted better to the digital challenge than its main competitor. It deserves credit for that. But it cannot be in the interests of Australian democracy that any private proprietor – left, right or neutral – should be so editorially dominant as News will become if Fairfax disappears as a significant news producer.

The death of Fairfax as a serious producer of journalism, should that outcome transpire, will undoubtedly leave a gap in the Australian public sphere; what we might call a “diversity deficit”. A major question for Australian civil society in the coming years will be how to fill that gap and ensure the survival of healthy media pluralism.

The Conversation

Brian McNair, Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Newspapers in decline, digital slowdown – what's new in the news?


Brian McNair, Queensland University of Technology

The most recent ABC circulation figures for Australia’s newspapers show a continuing decline in print sales across the board. That isn’t surprising, given global and national trends over the last few years. Australia was slow to join the global march downwards for newspaper sales in comparable markets such as the USA and the UK, showing some resilience until 2012 or so. But now, annual falls of up to 10 per cent are routine.

More surprising, and more worrying for the press as an industry, are the figures for digital subscriptions, which appear to be slowing down. Some are doing better than others, and no doubt news consumers are responsive to the functionality and aesthetics of the competing digital offerings. Some organisations have learnt the rules of the interactive media age better than others.

On the other hand, those same consumers have access to what is by now a rather luxurious range of free sites and apps producing journalism, factuality, and ‘truthiness’ of high quality. In that context, the slowdown in Australian paid-for digital becomes explicable. It’s not that online users are moving away from online news – simply that they have more options than ever before to access it free, and at a quality comparable with anything in the paid-for sector.

We have, for example, two world class overseas outlets now editionising in Australia. The Daily Mail Online, long one of the world’s leading digital sites, born of the iconic Daily Mail in the UK and popular for its celebrity content, has a substantial editorial presence in Sydney, under the leadership of Luke McIlveen. A mix of global and local stories has proven successful in embedding Daily Mail Australia.

The Guardian Online’s Australia edition also invests in the local scene, with the staff and resources required to cover Australian politics and public affairs with authority and depth. At the same time, it provides global coverage of Pulitzer Prize winning quality, all of it free to the Australian consumer. The Guardian Australia is a major addition to the news ecology in this country, and you can access it entirely free of charge.

This is what makes these new entrants to the Australian media marketplace so threatening to the established providers. They take the local market seriously, at the same time as integrating that coverage with the international scene. Australians need and want both, and all credit to the Mail and Guardian for delivering it.

The US-based Gawker also delivers Australian content, also free at the point of access, as does Buzzfeed. Neither of these outlets are as invested in Oz as the Guardian and Mail, but even before the ‘Johnny Depp’s dogs must die’ frenzy, ran a lot of content relevant to the Great South Land. Their focus is on humor, satire and ‘listicles’ , and there is a huge market for that in Australia as elsewhere.

And then, of course, there is The Conversation, which produces content of a particular type, but often of more general interest to a growing market interested in authoritative expert commentary.

None of these titles can, or ever could, compete with the Australian print media. But in an environment where news consumption is evermore mobile, evermore digital, they represent a major new segment of an already competitive information marketplace.

How should the established providers respond? That is the $2 billion question – the amount of advertising revenue which has migrated from print in recent years – and if I could answer it, Rupert Murdoch himself would be knocking on my door.

What I can say, as someone who both subscribes to paid-for news sites, and enjoys the free outlets, is that it’s all about quality. Distinctiveness. Respect for the consumer. People do pay for news online, and will continue to do so, but only if they feel that they are paying for something which matters to them.

That ‘something’ includes ‘quality journalism’ in general. Most of us understand that news worth reading doesn’t spring from the ether as if by magic. It needs skill, and resources, and the employment of committed human beings who must pay their bills like everyone else. We will pay for that, many of us, because we know we should. Our democracy and quality of life require it, just as much as the taxes we pay for public services.

That particular something may be quality investigative journalism, or provocative and engaging commentary, or top notch celebrity gossip, or fabulous website functionality. But there must be, somewhere in the package, something unique in the selling proposition.

It can be done, and the winners in this digital race for survival will be those organisations which identify and invest in whatever kind of ‘quality’ their particular market segment demands. The digital era, in that sense, is not so very different from the age of analogue and newsprint.

The Conversation

Brian McNair is Professor of Journalism, Media and Communication at Queensland University of Technology.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
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How I audited my daily media habits and improved the way I read


Gigaom

Creating web content is incredibly easy — but filtering content is really hard. In late 2014, I realized I was reading too much bad content. I felt enraged by some of the articles I clicked on, because they were such a thoughtless waste of my time.

I got so frustrated that I decided to invest serious effort in fixing the problem on my end, instead of fruitlessly swearing at my laptop. I hoped to determine what what was non-optimal about my media habits, and how I could improve them.  So I audited my habits (with a spreadsheet and everything!) — and what I learned might surprise you.

Current clickbait solutions

I’m not alone in my anger about clickbait and my desire for a better media diet.  There’s plenty of mocking commentary about this, like The Onion’s satirical site ClickHole, or the amazing Twitter feed Saved You A Click by…

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