The future of print: A 'niche' industry and a 'democratic deficit'

'There is no black magic bullet to save the printed press,' opened Ray Snoddy at The Media Society's debate on the future of newspapers.

It set the tone for a grim discussion, as heavyweights from all corners of the media came together at The Groucho Club on Monday, 23 January.

"It's a case of looking at the figures and deciding there's no way back," added the Guardian's Roy Greenslade.

"I can't see the Express lasting much longer. I think the Daily Mirror is in a perilous state. It's going to be a battle of the last man standing.

A 'greater need than ever'

However, despite bleak circulation and profit figures, Snoddy stressed there was an "even greater need" for print newspapers in a "new age of alternative facts".

"Frankly it would be a tragedy for society as a whole if no funding model is found. We must find a way for print journalism because if it goes away it will never come back."

Democratic deficit

Spelling out further problems for society if newspaper decline continues across the country, editor Mike Gilson claimed there was already a "democratic deficit".

"The democratic deficit is very real and it's happening now. In all the places we live there are journalists missing from courts, quangos and trusts. It's happening and it's real.

"The BBC can make up for so much, but where we are now people can get away with murder. If I was a council boss I'd be mightly happy with what's going on in the regions at the moment."

Though unsure of how the crisis could be solved, Gilson was confident the industry would have to rebuild. "Models will come", he added, "if we keep fire in our bellies."

A 'niche future'

"I see of course there are bright spots though," conceded Greenslade, highlighting the success of Metro, London Evening Standard and City AM.

"If you get the right printed product to the right people at the right time and it doesn't cost them anything and it's valuable to advertisers, advertisers will come calling.

"But these papers are really reactions to the fact no one will buy newspapers". 

Doug Wills, Managing Editor of the Standard, added: "Digital in future is going to take over the world, but you continue to produce the targeted niche papers to go to the decision makers. It doesn't matter how many, but who the person is.

"The Standard has played a smart game and made the most of our resources - the people on the tube."

Adding to the argument for niche models, the Professional Publishers Association's Barry McIlheney said magazine sales were healthy and growing.

"From a magazine perspective, we absolutely do not accept print is dying. The idea that we should lie down and accept this is complete nonsense."

"What magazines discovered before anyone else was niche marketing," added Greenslade.

Alternative models

Other solutions touted included looking to alternative models of funding and addressing the role of huge media companies such as Facebook.

Rachel Oldroyd of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism pointed to projects such as the Bristol Cable, a community owned media co-op as part of the solution.

"I think it’s really important that we encourage these models in this country. Journalism in this country will disappear if don’t encourage alternative models," she added.

"What worries me is Facebook don't realise they're killing the goose that lays the golden egg," added Roy Greenslade.

"They hoover it up, they send it to people via their newslinks and if they kill us without in any way compensating then we will suffer for it."

"We’re competing with monsters," added former managing director of The Daily Mail Guy Zitter of the problem. "The answer is you try and try again, there will be ways."


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