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In The Spotlight – Are Newspapers Finished?

The demise of printed newspapers seems to have been on the cards for some time. Long gone are the days of when the now defunct News of the World sold 5 million copies of salacious gossip and scandalous news on a Sunday morning.

Certainly young people are more likely to pick up their news and features from the internet, mostly via their phones. It is also very enterprising that young people are starting up businesses in their bedrooms. By filming her make up routines, vloggers like Zoella are now earning millions just from empting her bag after a shopping trip to Boots.

Although the Times started a pay wall some time ago for the paper’s online edition in response to declining sales and The Independent and Indie on Sunday have gone totally digital for the same reason, it is interesting that the Mirror Group have decided to buck the trend by publishing New Day, a so-called objective view of items that are in the news. Not sure how well it is selling or how long it will last. However, both London papers, the Evening Standard and the Metro became free pick ups for commuters years ago and both appear to be thriving.

Every day on Radio 4’s Today programme they review what’s in the papers. It’s the same for the hour long news-related Broadcasting House where they specifically invite famous guests to pick out items of interest in the Sundays. I think this shows that newspapers are far from finished and still exert influence beyond their readership or apparent commercial value to their publishers.

Newspaper campaigns are still powerful, despite the immediacy and impact of certain Twitter and Facebook campaigns or ‘trending’ subjects. These can all feed off each other, as they should. Research has revealed that senior executives feel their interviews are more powerful if they are seen in printed form rather than going straight online, although the Huffington Post editor might disagree.

I think newspapers command longer attention spans. I think a lot of people who get their news and feature online do it that way because they are in a hurry. Newspapers tend to still have the best content and can hire the top writers. No journalist has the ambition to be just online, although it’s true that some bloggers have a lot of followers and are powerful influential communicators because of it.

The recent Oscar for Best Picture was awarded to the movie Spotlight, about the investigative team on the Boston Globe newspaper who uncovered and dramatically disclosed the shocking scandal of the cover up by the Catholic Church of child abuse by paedophile priests in Boston and elsewhere in the world. It’s an extraordinary film and deserving of its Oscar prize.

Investigative teams on newspapers can do tremendously important undercover work – unfortunately budget cutbacks have meant that a lot of investment has been withdrawn from this important form of journalism on many newspapers. There is nothing like an insightful and revealing newspaper investigation to engage, move, challenge and inform their readers.

 

While it is true that documentaries can serve this purpose they are much more expensive to produce and , like the difference between reading a book or seeing a film of the same story, so much more impact can be made through words and the imagination of the reader. Reading a thought provoking article does just that, it gives you time to think.

I recommend that you go and see Spotlight because it’s a great movie, a real thriller. The courage of the journalists and specifically of Marty Baron, who was then the paper’s new Editor in Chief and really stuck his neck on the line, is inspiring. Although Marty now edits the Washington Post, like those Watergate guys he’s left behind a truly important and game changing legacy.