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Arguments used by the newspaper industry to justify its existence, why they're flawed and what this means for Anthill


I’m one of few people still sympathetic to the recent laments of newspaper publishers.

And why wouldn’t I be, as a passionate supporter and proprietor of print magazines?

But this year has been one of soul-searching for anyone producing a physical product or service touched by the digital realm.

In an earlier post, I observed how Virgin Megastore had closed in NY. (Why pay for a CD when you can get your music for less online?) In October last year, I wrote about the rise of ‘free’ as the world’s newest super-competitor. (When the marginal cost falls to less than a micro-cent, it’s time to find new sources of revenue) And to repeat a recent quote from Clay Shirky, ‘“You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model.’

So, what are the three main arguments that the newspaper industry uses to justify its existence?

1. We verify the validity of content

You probably know the argument. Bloggers don’t adhere to the high standards expected of print journalists. “You’ll all rue the day when the only news sources available are provided by Bubba and his mates from the trailer park!”

As humans, we like to think that what we are reading is the truth (or as close to the truth as journalism can get). And sure, some media outlets are more credible than others. But that’s the point, isn’t it?

Whatever the medium, some outlets will always be found to be more trustworthy than others. And those will be the ones that attract readers (and, therefore, revenue, in whatever form it may come).

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for Bubba and his uninformed rants. I’m simply saying that its naive to think that a new style of online journalism won’t emerge (isn’t already emerging) that pays respect to accurate reporting and finds a way to finance quality journalism.

2. ‘Aggregated’ news has a ‘dumbing down’ effect

It’s now getting a bit dated but when the clip below, EPIC 2015, went viral several years back, it caused many to regard the rise of news aggregraters with suspicion.

The argument is that any form of aggregater is designed to serve up digital content of interest to you, based on your previous digital activities and the previous digital activities of thousands of people ‘like you’, and that the outcome creates narrow-minded people only interested in information that corresponds with their existing behaviours, tastes and opinions.

So, let’s put this in simple terms. It’s like giving another media outlet permission to decide what news will interest you based on what has interested you in the past (and what interests other people like you). I don’t know if it’s just me but doesn’t that sound like the function of a newspaper editor?

Once again, online news sources perform a similar role – they filter the news of the world. I personally think it will be a long time before any sane person will come to rely solely on information provided exclusively by news aggregaters. Editors can breath a sigh of relief. Your job will continue to be about filtering the news of the world. You’ll just have better data for gauging reader interests than month-old circulation figures.

3. Print remains a highly effective medium for advertising

This is an argument that’s being heard less and less. Ironically, it’s perhaps the most defensible of the three.

Sure, classified advertising as a source of newspaper revenue is diminishing. Who wouldn’t want to check out rental properties, a new home, a sportscar, your potential future husband online – in colour and motion! – when the alternative is less dynamic and involves getting ink on your fingers?

But what if your goal is to raise brand awareness? You could use traditional options (i.e. billboards, television, radio) or you could pursue banner advertising. If the latter is your bag, best of luck! (You’d be more likely to have success tattooing your forehead.)

While digital direct marketing is proving a winning formula for some marketers, in most cases print still beats digital hands-down when the goal is building a brand (in this proprietor’s not-so-objective opinion).

So, what does all this mean for Anthill?

It means that we are also being forced to adapt.

And the observations above are likely to shape the way we move forward. We are devising new online advertising options (check out our ‘Topic Centres’) and we are trying isolate our ‘purpose’ as a commercial entity.

For example, last month our monthly unique visitors online exceeded our print circulation. If that’s the case, are we a magazine with a website or a website with  magazine… or something else altogether?

Of course, we wouldn’t be Anthill if we didn’t involve our readers in the discussion.

Firstly, we’ve devised a brief survey (click here).

Secondly, we’d like to know what you consider Anthill’s greatest strengths – Our ‘raison d’entre’. Because, moreso than ever, things ANT what they used to be! 😉