A look at the awkward relationship and interaction between traditional print media and the internet.
THESE are times of distress for traditional print media. Circulation has declined throughout the internet-age – gradually for some publications, dramatically for others, and the list of casualties is ever growing. Meanwhile, modern readers competently skim through multiple online news-sites in a matter of minutes, liking and sharing, but not necessarily caring and understanding, as they go.
The newspaper, helpless against the topicality and urgency of the internet, inevitably seems an antiquated medium. Yet, therein lies its strength: routine and tradition. People around the world cannot stomach their breakfast without skimming through the daily. Others cannot digest their lunch without a peek at the hottest celebrity gossip, others without absorbing analyses of recent developments in world economy.
Moreover, as a reaction to the overwhelming abundance and variety of online content, the traditional ideals of newspapers – objectivity and accountability – are highlighted, and valued in the minds of many a reader.
Similarly, routines and associations help preserve the circulation of magazines, proposes Jukka-Pekka Puro, a docent of Media Studies at the University of Turku. “Women’s magazines, for example, allow readers to look at other people’s homes and décor. Reading is relaxation, a form of escapism.”
Routines can, however, be broken, he warns. Rather than technological advances, the unpredictable social interest seems to determine the future.
Print media in numbers
• Over 80% of Finns read newspapers
Print in statistics
Traditionally, Finns are eager readers of printed media. Statistics Finland indicates that in 2009 over 80 percent of Finns read newspapers regularly. However, statistics also reveal a significant decrease in the reading habits of young Finns: roughly 30 per cent of 10-14 year-old Finns read newspapers regularly, compared to over 60 per cent in 1991. A notable decrease was also recorded for 15-24 year-old Finns, from roughly 90 per cent in 1991 to 70 per cent in 2009.
Meanwhile, over 80 per cent of 15-24 year-old Finns have embraced online news sources indicating their comfort with these various services on offer.
Reading newspapers is associated with the Finnish character, Statistics Finland pronounces. The newspaper is a common media that promotes democracy and freedom of speech. Are these online developments then threatening the very essence of Finnish society?
“Finns are still avid readers”, assures Puro. “I doubt that the willingness to follow current societal discussion and the desire to comprehend societal phenomena is altogether disappearing, although undulations do occur. However, the question remains: What is the fate of the prints?”
“In essence, the industry is currently struggling with two problems: the decline in circulation and subscribers, on one hand, and the hike of the price of paper, on the other”, Puro states. “The internet, especially, and its utilisation has puzzled the print media. I believe the major domestic newspapers will retain their position. But, if we look at the smaller provincial and regional newspapers, circulation is bound to decline further. In the long run, unfortunately, they are doomed.”
Statistically, the future for magazines seems similarly bleak. Statistics Finland data shows that pensioners are the only age group that has maintained their interest in print magazines, a fact attributable to staunch technological resistance.
“But, certain magazines, chiefly the ones focusing on human interest or targeting a specific audience, seem to cope. It is astonishing, really, how Aku Ankka [Donald Duck, published weekly], for instance, manages to stand its ground.
Blogs have intruded the domain traditionally ruled by magazines. “The popularity of fashion and décor blogs, in particular, has boomed over the past decade. They do not, however, directly compete with magazines but provide supplementary content instead”, indicates Puro.
“Blogalisation” has consequently shaped the online presence of magazines and newspapers alike, from distant moderators to approachable peers capable of the occasional typo. Especially the mass media was long criticised for failing to genuinely adapt to and appreciate the blog as a unique, interactive environment.
Toward the end of 1990s, the idea of an online newspaper was a facsimile. “With facsimiles, however, newspapers shot themselves in the foot,” Puro notes. “The number of subscribers immediately decreased, and the media lost touch with them, especially the young.”
Helsingin Sanomat abandoned the facsimile and established a separate online editorial, Puro continues. “Investments were made, and at one point, the online editorial was bigger than the news room proper – amazing from today’s perspective. Also the online content, in the early 2000s, was extremely diverse.”
However, online advertising had not evolved beyond banners and pop-up ads and readers remained unenthusiastic about paying for online content. Thus, generating income proved difficult. “Eventually, the decision was made to run down the online editorial. If we look back to the state of germination, it is evident that goals have been re-assessed.”
However, within media groups, a distribution of work has been established: around-the-clock reporting has been left to the tabloids, while Helsingin Sanomat, for example, strives to be a platform for more analytical and comprehensive reporting. “A truly novel segmentation of the market,” Puro enthuses.
The blog as an online environment allows a more immediate interaction between the author and readers. The participatory nature and its benefits, expressly the enhanced reader loyalty, have not gone unnoticed, and contemporary media, similarly, encourage readers to participate. For example, the Finnish women’s magazine Olivia recently published an edition, the content of which was designed by the readers.
“The media want to present themselves as open via social media. News tips, for example, have increased enormously, social media being the channel through which gossip and news travels,” Puro observes.
However, despite the influence of social media in the dissemination of news, certain areas remain immutable. “The journalists of the major Finnish media, namely YLE and Helsingin Sanomat, remain as gatekeepers and still wield the same power they did a century ago.”
Then there is crowdsourcing. Commonly utilised in special circumstances only, apparent as the occasional reader-contributed photo from an accident site, some publications have embraced crowdsourcing as the primary method of creating content – not least due to its affordability. In addition to photography, readers may contribute reports and articles.
“The role of crowdsourcing in the media of tomorrow is difficult to predict. Us researchers will speculate whatever happens in hindsight.”
Meanwhile, the large media groups strive to offer their readers, listeners and viewers a more comprehensive media experience. “The logic here is simple: synergy allows the recycling of content within a large group”, begins Puro. “It is a global phenomenon.”
“Recruiting apt professionals and the journalistic process are ample costs, but such level of professionalism is not necessarily needed elsewhere in the media group. For radio, for example, journalists who can articulate the journalistic material produced elsewhere in the group will get the job done,” Puro explains.
For print media, still faltering in the face of the internet, reduction of costs is paramount. The extreme manner in which commercialisation is rejected in online environments, however, calls for truly innovative sources of income in future.