The Soapbox – Do mention the ‘c’ word

What is the future of print journalism?


Something strange happened while having a night out recently with work colleagues. No, I didn’t embarrass myself (that would not be strange); nor was there fumbled colleague-groping (it wasn’t me, I swear); nor the discovery of a new kebab flavour (just imagine…!). No, what was strange was the topic of conversation. Even stranger is the fact that I remembered it the next day – and I present the guts of it here in this blog.

As a magazine editor I often find myself questioning the future of my profession. Not only is the National Enquirer up for a Pulitzer, but reader attention spans are waning, venerable newspapers are folding, and frankly, the internet has opened publishing up to anyone who wants to string two sentences together. Traditional notions of the fourth estate appear to be withering.

Who would want to be a journalist of the ‘old school’, labouring over hardcopy publications for little return?

Anyone who’s seen the movie ‘State of Play’ knows the, er, state of play: Russell Crowe is a crotchety ‘old school’ journalist, fanatically researching stories, asking the tough questions, exposing governments and generally ‘doing good’ with his words. His editor hates him because he grunts at people and ignores deadlines. Rachel McAdams, on the other hand, is a young gun online journalist who breaks stories every few minutes. That her stories revolve around c-grade celebrity hook-ups and bust-ups is a minor quibble. Life in a tabloid world demands instantaneous words. It’s all about information – right now.

I presented this compelling evidence regarding the imminent death of my profession to my colleague – an online marketing expert – and his response surprised me. Hardcopy publications, he said, will always have the advantage. How so? He dropped the c word: credibility. It seems that although ‘Joe’s blog about stuff’ may hit on some fantastic stories and be a wealth of well-written information, at the end of the day it simply floats out there, with nothing so mundane as pages or a spine or dirty ink to tether it to the real world.

People still like to feel there’s something concrete to back up what they read. They like to know there’s someone in an office (or home) researching, interviewing, writing, subbing, designing, proofing, and publishing. And then they like to walk to the newsagent, weigh the pros and cons of all the other publications, and then – hopefully – settle for yours. Understandably, people do tend to care more when forking out their hard earned for something.

Both aesthetically and from a job satisfaction standpoint, the biggest thrill I get from my job is being able to pick up a magazine at the end of the production process: the ‘new page’ smell; the ‘d’oh!’ realisation of a spelling mistake or misquote; dodging the sales rep for burying their prized client on the back page…that’s all hard to top.

Perhaps this is an outmoded way of thinking. I mean, ‘All the President’s Men’ – the book/movie that presents the image of journos that all journos aspire to – was set in the 1970s. Like so many professions, perhaps journalism needs to move with the times?

I noticed recently that newspapers in the US are scrambling to develop apps to make their publications suitable for iPads. Could this be a way out?

I also note with curiosity how many of my print colleagues are now suddenly also popping up on video streaming websites. I’m not saying I’ve got a face for radio, but I’m pretty sure I went into print journalism so people wouldn’t have to look at my mug on TV – whatever form that TV takes. Obviously this is also an outmoded way of thinking and I’m on a sinking ship. Or am I?

Can print and online mediums live side by side and be leveraged off each other? A blended approach perhaps – the shallower, interactive media online and the more in-depth stuff in hardcopy? Do people even want to read in-depth features anymore?

How about advertising? Will advertisers fork out for online? And perhaps most importantly, will standalone online content ever build the same level of credibility as print?

So many questions – and all from a kebab-inspired conversation.

Tell us your thoughts.

Iain Hopkins

Iain Hopkins is the editor of Human Capital Magazine and a fan of the occasional late night kebab.


6 Responses to “The Soapbox – Do mention the ‘c’ word”
  1. Mandi says:

    Oh dear. I do hope you don’t blog about any of our conversations.

    I think another C word for this space is “contingency”. People choose to consume their information in different forms and new technology expands these channels rather than replaces them. Give your content a contingency plan so if they don’t read your blog, watch your webisodes or stream your podcast you still have a way of getting your point across.

    Great post and great blog PRinkies!

    • Iain says:

      Thanks Mandi – I actually record each and every one of our conversations so beware! You’ve raised a really good point about contingency and the way that new technology can – hopefully – expand the channels through which media consumers get their information. I do believe all these media outlets can work effectively together, and embracing one does not neccessarily mean killing another.

  2. Interesting….very interesting.

    The thing is that many print publications are losing credibility. The lines between editorial and “advertorial” are blurring. Advertisers often have a fair amount of control over magazine content and it’s really hard to do really interesting, explosive investigative work without upsetting them. So journalists and editors are faced with constant frustrations and are limited in the work they can produce.

    Editorial departments are also being shrunk as publishers become more focused on quantity over quality. Yes. Even in print.

    Whether the illussion of credibility still exists is a different question however. I agree that people are still more likely to believe something they read in a print magazine, but whether that’s going to change remains to be seen. At the moment there’s a lot of trash on the internet. Everyone has an opinion they want to express (and aren’t letting grammar or syntax get in their way), but with time some online publications may gain credibility and establish themselves as authorities. There are several, like Business Spectator, which are well respected now.

    I think Mandi is right on the money. Video didn’t kill the radio star and cinema didn’t kill theatre, so online publications won’t kill print. But print may have to change – either by investing in the quality of content or in some other way to remain viable. Interesting times…

    • Iain says:

      Thanks Agnes – several excellent points raised. Firstly, what an excellent 80s tune you’ve referenced. Video Killed the Radio Star by Buggles. I think a karaoke night is called for.

      I feel we’re at a bit of a crossroads when it comes to print media in particular. Traditional media barons have somehow averted their eyes away from what’s been happening right under their noses with digital media and now it’s a mad scramble to keep up and reverse trends (declining newspaper readership, etc).

      Unfortunately in many instances they’ve also made those cutbacks to editorial staff so that quality suffers. If anything was to differentiate traditional newspapers, etc, from the trash of much of the internet, surely it would have been topclass writing? As always, words and those who write them are underappreciated.

      I guess we’ll wait and see if more quality online publications like Business Spectator gain traction. The niche ‘authority’ route might be the way to go.

      As for the eternal battle of sales/advertorial over editorial….I’ll save that for another post!

      Thanks for commenting!

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  1. […] recently, editor of Human Capital Magazine Iain Hopkins also questioned on the PRinks blog the future of his profession based on the fact that the internet and social media have opened up […]

  2. […] recently, editor of Human Capital Magazine Iain Hopkins also questioned on the PRinks blog the future of his profession based on the fact that the internet and social media have opened up […]

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