A response to Mass Media and Society (James Curran and Michael Gurevitch), Chapter 13
In “Dead Trees to Live Wires,” Colin Sparks argues that the rise of online media poses commercial challenges to traditional print media. Sparks does not say that print is dead or dying, or that publishing print material online is some kind of bonanza. Instead he says there are four ways in which the internet has changed business for the news.
The first change is in terms of competition. Newspapers historically do not have to compete with broadcast and magazine news because other media do not balance timeliness with depth the way daily papers do. Online, however, everyone is publishing 24 hours a day, so the local paper now has to directly compete with the local ABC affiliate and whoever else. Also, the net gets rid of geographical boundaries to competition and lowers the price of entry into publishing. Second, it allows advertisers to potentially bypass newspapers and talk directly to consumers and allows people looking for in depth news to go straight to the sources. Third, this will lead to division between large national/international news sites and small locally-concentrated news sites, with the local sites becoming much more involved in their communities. Finally, newspapers may respond to these pressures by breaking down the barriers between news/editorial and advertising in order to compete.
Sparks is right on, although he fails to consider a few key facets in how online news is going to develop. One is the cooperation of different media in online ventures. Few newspaper sites now compete with all the local network sites-most have one or two networks affiliated with them and many run joint news sites. This may have something to do with the concentration of ownership of different media even within the same city or it may just provide a competitive edge to both parties in a partnership. Another conflict he doesn’t touch on enough is the struggle between journalists and business people within online departments. Some papers have given it over to the business people, some have kept them separate, and others have let them duke it out. At Naples, we barely had contact with the business side of our department except to talk about new technologies coming in. All our people were journalists and the content and editorial decisions reflected that. Still, I’ve talked to people at other publications who feel controlled either by advertising interests or crap handed down from the corporate office. It seems, though, that individual editors and reporters can often make a big difference in how online news is produced and the corporate centralizing, advertising-based trend seems to be balanced by readers being more interested in real local news.