Jon’s got a serious point though. Newspapers worldwide are in trouble. Many predict they will soon have to be handed out free to commuters in an attempt to keep circulation high enough to run on advertising. Here in New Zealand, the major newspapers’ circulation fell 4% in the last year alone. APN and Fairfax, the duopoly which between them own most of our newspapers are both in deep financial trouble.
Basically, the Internet is displacing newspapers. David Kirk, the disastrous former head of Fairfax who asset-stripped half of New Zealand’s newspapers (and, incidentally, promotes free-trade zones in NZ with no labour rights and environment laws), blames the decline in revenue from classified advertising as people use Trade Me and the like instead. I think that’s only part of the story. Another part has been that the Internet provides more convenient, specific, and detailed information – both on the mainstream media websites and on topic-specific websites like this one. But the real problem has been the mindset of the likes of Kirk and APN’s Tony O’Reilly, who have fired hundreds of journalists to squeeze a little more profit. That has led to a serious decline in quality as the remaining journos are over-stretched and, too often, not on top of their issues. So not only is the Internet pulling profits and readership from the newspapers, declining quality is driving more and more people away from them.
Now, you might think that as an Internet-based writer I would be happy at that but I’m not. The slow collapse of the newspapers we are seeing leaves us with a serious problem. How will professional journalism be funded if media consumption is moving to a free format where there is little ad revenue to be made? And what ramifications will that have for the media’s crucial role calling those in power to account?