What is the future of the printed newspaper? The future of local newspapers, in particular, has looked uncertain in recent years as increasing numbers of people moved to reading their news online. Now, a new disruptor has shook things up again.
The demise of the printed newspaper has been discussed for decades.
Sales of print newspapers have been in decline since the advent of the digital age. That’s because social media has been a huge disruptor to reading habits and the sharing of information around the world.
Around the world, national titles responded in a variety of ways – increasing their digital presence, seeking to commercialise their online activities by putting up paywalls, or aggressively using pop-ups suggesting readers subscribe.
Nevertheless, with increasing numbers of people switching to getting their news online, newspaper sales and advertising revenues saw a sharp decline – putting the future of many local, printed newspapers in jeopardy.
Once a stalwart of the local community, the influence and importance of local newspapers took a battering in the first twenty years of this century.
Then, in 2020, a dramatic social disruptor revealed just how important good-quality local journalism is. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted many societies, many lives and many industry sectors.
The aviation and travel industries were decimated almost overnight. Meanwhile, the revenue generation of home streaming services and IT tools to support homeworking surged.
For local newspapers, the effects of the pandemic were more nuanced. People needed access to information about local services that they could trust.
Much research has illustrated how readers still trust printed media over digital. With lots of contradictory reports swirling online during the pandemic, and existing concerns about fake news, trust is at a premium.
During the difficult period of lockdown and the following periods as we emerged from lockdowns, the public wanted to access information about health advice, healthcare services and other essential local services which they could trust.
That’s why, during the last couple of years, many people have turned back to trusted, printed newspapers to access the vital information they so desperately needed.
A recent study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism looked at this trend. It found that local newspapers are now seen as the best source of news in six key categories: local announcements; local crime; the local economy; local politics; local sport; and schools and education.
In the Reuters survey, one of the countries that favoured local newspapers most was Norway. More than half of Norwegian respondents (53 percent) said that local newspapers were the best source of information about COVID-19.
Similar findings were revealed by the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. It found that 56 percent of respondents consider national newspapers to be a trustworthy source of news. This figure rose to 63 percent for local newspapers.
It isn’t only in Europe where readers love local newspapers. Readers in rural and regional Australia are more likely to go directly to their local newspaper for local information that to use Google or Facebook.
In fact, a survey by Country Press Australia found that 71 percent of readers prefer to read the printed version of the newspaper than read online and 86 percent regard the printing of their local newspaper as an essential service in their community.
Readers lean into these essential, local services during times of difficulty or crisis. Yet, to ensure they remain in place to serve future generations, we need to protect them.
The best way to preserve these local services, so that they continue to exist – and offer the good, local journalism that is so desperately needed in these times of misinformation and fake news online – readers need to subscribe to their local printed newspaper.