Thursday, June 22, 2017 This Week's Paper

Our Views: Changes begets change in the digital age

No one would be shocked to learn that journalism, particularly in its print form, faces challenges as smart phones, tablets and digital devices continue their march toward being commonplace.

Newspapers, especially general news dailies, have largely seen their business models evaporate with more advertising dollars following the eyeballs of readers from print products to online options. The trouble is that for every $7 lost in print advertising, only $1 is seen in online revenues, cutting into the basic business model of most newspapers.

The meat-and-potato financial streams from car advertisements and classified sections of many newspapers have largely shifted to online outlets the likes of Craig’s List and The “great Recession” cutbacks didn’t help traditional news outlets either, whether in print or over airwaves.

But this is nothing new to the world of media. Every new technology brings change to how news is reported and distributed and how money is made during that exercise. Ink-stained hands of scribes were replaced by cheaper and faster lead-type presses. Radio and marked the “death of newspapers” only to be replaced by television, which caused calls for the decline of both. The Internet provided challenges that further prompted times of change. Add to that the rise of tablets and smart phones that provide access to the totality of human understanding with a few key strokes, and you get the idea that time are changing. But they have always been changing. Radio survived the invention of television. Newspapers have survived both, and will survive the iPad.

It is a matter of being “platform agnostic.” Media outlets, from printed newspapers to radio stations to television stations, are finding ways to survive by providing wider ranges of products. Newspapers provide streaming videos or audio sound bites that were the almost exclusively the realm of broadcast outlets, for example. In each case, providing quality- focused content remains key to drawing viewers, readers, click counts and advertising dollars.

No one media platform simply replaces another. Web pages, from those created by established news outlets to community bloggers to simple aggregators of news content created by others, will replace printed newspapers. The business is much more complex than that.

Take the case of vinyl recordings, for example. Many a pixel has shined on computer screens announcing news that CD then mp3 files and iPhones would end the days of records. Reality is that digital downloads actually declined last year, thanks to streamline radio product. Only vinyl records posted solid gains, tallying the highest year of record production in more than two decades. While still only a fraction of all sales of recorded music, growth is still growth for a format that was long considered DOA for being outdated technology.

The death of ink on paper might be in the future of newspapers, certainly, just the same as printed books may go the way of the buggy whip with the rise of gas-powered vehicles. But that obituary won’t be written anytime soon if history foreshadows the future.

Also ponder the opportunities such a world provides. Publishers would no longer be burdened with the time lag or extreme expense of squirting ink on paper and entrusting contractors to deliver their product to readers. News distribution could be immediate and less expensive in a paperless world. But that would would still require revenue to fund reporters and editors, so advertising will always be play a role in that business.

The role of reporters as watchdogs of government and chroniclers of community activities is too ingrained in the fabric of communities to be simply unraveled by technology. The methods and distribution modes will change, but the role will survive. And revenue streams will be right along side it.

The above opinion represents the view of Tacoma Weekly's editorial board.