viernes, agosto 25, 2006

Los caminos del Avisaje

Este artículo del The Economist describe los problemas de los diarios para retener avisaje, pero al mismo tiempo entrega ciertas pistas sobre los caminos que está tomando la publicidad y sobre el rol que cumplen los nuevos medios frente a esto.

“A GOOD newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking
to itself,” mused Arthur Miller in 1961. A decade
later, two reporters from the Washington Post
wrote a series of articles that brought down
President Nixon and the status of print
journalism soared. At their best, newspapers hold
governments and companies to account. They
usually set the news agenda for the rest of the
media. But in the rich world newspapers are now
an endangered species. The business of selling
words to readers and selling readers to
advertisers, which has sustained their role in
society, is falling apart (see article).

Of all the “old” media, newspapers have the most
to lose from the internet. Circulation has been
falling in America, western Europe, Latin
America, Australia and New Zealand for decades
(elsewhere, sales are rising). But in the past
few years the web has hastened the decline. In
his book “The Vanishing Newspaper”, Philip Meyer
calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be
the moment when newsprint dies in America as the
last exhausted reader tosses aside the last
crumpled edition. That sort of extrapolation
would have produced a harrumph from a Beaverbrook
or a Hearst, but even the most cynical news baron
could not dismiss the way that ever more young
people are getting their news online. Britons
aged between 15 and 24 say they spend almost 30%
less time reading national newspapers once they start using the web.

Up to a podcast, Lord Copper?
Advertising is following readers out of the door.
The rush is almost unseemly, largely because the
internet is a seductive medium that supposedly
matches buyers with sellers and proves to
advertisers that their money is well spent.
Classified ads, in particular, are quickly
shifting online. Rupert Murdoch, the Beaverbrook
of our age, once described them as the industry's
rivers of gold—but, as he said last year,
“Sometimes rivers dry up.” In Switzerland and the
Netherlands newspapers have lost half their
classified advertising to the internet.

Newspapers have not yet started to shut down in
large numbers, but it is only a matter of time.
Over the next few decades half the rich world's
general papers may fold. Jobs are already
disappearing. According to the Newspaper
Association of America, the number of people
employed in the industry fell by 18% between 1990
and 2004. Tumbling shares of listed newspaper
firms have prompted fury from investors. In 2005
a group of shareholders in Knight Ridder, the
owner of several big American dailies, got the
firm to sell its papers and thus end a 114-year
history. This year Morgan Stanley, an investment
bank, attacked the New York Times Company, the
most august journalistic institution of all,
because its share price had fallen by nearly half in four years.

Having ignored reality for years, newspapers are
at last doing something. In order to cut costs,
they are already spending less on journalism.
Many are also trying to attract younger readers
by shifting the mix of their stories towards
entertainment, lifestyle and subjects that may
seem more relevant to people's daily lives than
international affairs and politics are. They are
trying to create new businesses on- and offline.
And they are investing in free daily papers,
which do not use up any of their meagre editorial
resources on uncovering political corruption or
corporate fraud. So far, this fit of activity
looks unlikely to save many of them. Even if it
does, it bodes ill for the public role of the Fourth Estate.

Getting away with murder
In future, as newspapers fade and change, will
politicians therefore burgle their opponents'
offices with impunity, and corporate villains
whoop as they trample over their victims?
Journalism schools and think-tanks, especially in
America, are worried about the effect of a
crumbling Fourth Estate. Are today's news
organisations “up to the task of sustaining the
informed citizenry on which democracy depends?”
asked a recent report about newspapers from the
Carnegie Corporation of New York, a charitable research foundation.

Nobody should relish the demise of once-great
titles. But the decline of newspapers will not be
as harmful to society as some fear. Democracy,
remember, has already survived the huge
television-led decline in circulation since the
1950s. It has survived as readers have shunned
papers and papers have shunned what was in
stuffier times thought of as serious news. And it
will surely survive the decline to come.

That is partly because a few titles that invest
in the kind of investigative stories which often
benefit society the most are in a good position
to survive, as long as their owners do a
competent job of adjusting to changing
circumstances. Publications like the New York
Times and the Wall Street Journal should be able
to put up the price of their journalism to
compensate for advertising revenues lost to the
internet—especially as they cater to a more
global readership. As with many industries, it is
those in the middle—neither highbrow, nor
entertainingly populist—that are likeliest to fall by the wayside.

The usefulness of the press goes much wider than
investigating abuses or even spreading general
news; it lies in holding governments to
account—trying them in the court of public
opinion. The internet has expanded this court.
Anyone looking for information has never been
better equipped. People no longer have to trust a
handful of national papers or, worse, their local
city paper. News-aggregation sites such as Google
News draw together sources from around the world.
The website of Britain's Guardian now has nearly
half as many readers in America as it does at home.

In addition, a new force of “citizen” journalists
and bloggers is itching to hold politicians to
account. The web has opened the closed world of
professional editors and reporters to anyone with
a keyboard and an internet connection. Several
companies have been chastened by amateur
postings—of flames erupting from Dell's laptops
or of cable-TV repairmen asleep on the sofa. Each
blogger is capable of bias and slander, but,
taken as a group, bloggers offer the searcher
after truth boundless material to chew over. Of
course, the internet panders to closed minds; but so has much of the press.

For hard-news reporting—as opposed to comment—the
results of net journalism have admittedly been
limited. Most bloggers operate from their
armchairs, not the frontline, and citizen
journalists tend to stick to local matters. But
it is still early days. New online models will
spring up as papers retreat. One non-profit
group, NewAssignment.Net, plans to combine the
work of amateurs and professionals to produce
investigative stories on the internet. Aptly,
$10,000 of cash for the project has come from
Craig Newmark, of Craigslist, a group of free
classified-advertisement websites that has
probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers' income.

In future, argues Carnegie, some high-quality
journalism will also be backed by non-profit
organisations. Already, a few respected news
organisations sustain themselves that
way—including the Guardian, the Christian Science
Monitor and National Public Radio. An elite group
of serious newspapers available everywhere
online, independent journalism backed by
charities, thousands of fired-up bloggers and
well-informed citizen journalists: there is every
sign that Arthur Miller's national conversation will be louder than ever.


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