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Do We Need Paper?

Recently I have heard a lot of news stories about how many newspapers are failing and how others, which haven’t failed completely (yet), are downsizing their workforces to try to survive. Why is this happening and is it a problem?

Why its happening seems fairly obvious: first, electronic media (and the Internet especially) are becoming more popular as news sources, and second the global financial crisis has reduced advertising in papers making it harder for them to be profitable.

The replacement of conventional media with new electronic forms is inevitable and the financial crisis has really just hastened the end for old media. Conventional newspapers will die, and probably sooner than most people think. There is the view that many people still prefer to read from real paper but that view ignores technologies which will soon become mainstream, specifically electronic paper which can potentially be “like paper but better than paper”.

So conventional newspapers are doomed but that doesn’t mean that they can’t operate in the same way as they do now but output their material to electronic media instead of paper. The question is, will they do this in time.

Another issue seems to be the increasing commercialisation and globalisation of newspapers. This has become obvious quite recently here in new Zealand. There is only one “major” paper left which isn’t owned by a big overseas company – that is my local paper, the Otago Daily Times. Maybe its just coincidental but its the only major paper in the country which has increased its reporting staff and, while it is suffering from reduced circulation, it is affected less than other papers.

So overseas ownership might be an additional factor leading to the demise of papers. I certainly enjoy seeing big international corporations failing but that ignores the problems associated with that failure.

I think that any overseas investor who invests in a company which deliberately moves here to exploit our economy deserves to lose everything. I don’t feel too bad if that happens because I don’t like greedy parasites. The problem is, of course, that we now rely on these companies to provide news, and to employ most of our news professionals.

Its generally accepted that foreign ownership produces a newspaper which is really totally focussed on profit. But its not quite that simple because newspapers are there to report news and they (even the foreign owned ones) do a reasonable job of this. Also, the locally owned papers have to make money too, so its not a simple dichotomy.

But its unlikely that a big global corporation which buys a New Zealand newspaper is really doing that so they can produce a good news source. Far more likely they see it as a revenue source. Local ownership is far more likely to be focussed on quality outputs.

I have commented many times in the past that I don’t think globalisation and foreign ownership are good things in most cases, and I think newspapers are another example of that. So maybe we don’t need paper and we don’t need newspapers. Actually I think we do need newspapers because they are often the primary source of information.

One thing is for sure though: newspapers need to change and adapt. Ideally I would like to see all the traditional foreign owned papers fail and be replaced with something better but that might be too idealistic. Whatever happens its certain that the combination of new technology and a major recession is sure to create a significant change in this area and it will happen quite quickly.

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