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Are Death Tolls Ringing for Newspapers?

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 10 2012 (IPS) - Two different points of view about the future for print media were represented at a debate held on Monday, and organised by United Nations Academic Impact.

Dr. Regina Marchi, Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University, defended the view that “death bells are tolling for the newspapers”.

She mentioned how younger generations in the West tend to rely almost solely on broadcast and online news nowadays, and how newspapers all over the U.S. are closing down completely, or desperately trying to cut costs by scaling down and putting an end to home delivery or replacing daily editions with weekly or biweekly editions.

“Even nationally acclaimed newspapers like The New York Times are shadows of their former selves,” Marchi said.

Many newspapers are also reducing staff. According to Marchi, 20 journalists working for print media can be replaced by one single reporter working with online journalism. Unfortunately, this leads to a more shallow form of news, Marchi warned.

Heena Chavda, a graduate student in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at New York University, partly agreed with Dr. Marchi. “A newspaper is something my grandparents read,” she said.

Chavda did take a very positive position when she went on to claim that a foreseeable death of print media and the growth of digital news will only facilitate discussion and interaction between news consumers.

Simona-Mirela Miculescu, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, defended the opposite point of view. “Newspapers will continue to be with us,” Miculescu said.

Revenue from ads in print media may be falling, but is still far higher than revenue from online ads, she continued. She also pointed out that it is true that many newspapers in the U.S. and the rest of the Western world are having financial difficulties, but meanwhile the market for print media is growing in developing countries and emerging economies such as India, Brazil and China. Miculescu called the death of newspapers a “limited phenomenon”.

Her opinions received some support from Atul Singh, an Indian journalist and the founder of Fair Observer. “The information you are delivering matters, not the format,” he said.

According to Singh, quality newspapers have better chances to survive than superficial online journalism. As an example he mentioned that the international affairs publication The Economist has doubled it’s print figures lately.

The four panel members did agree on one matter; that a sustainable business model for online news, needed to make it possible for media companies to provide in-depth reporting online, is still to be found. A mixture of public and private funding for investigative journalism, vital to democratic societies, was mentioned as an alternative model.

Another issue debated by the panelists was the fact that a number of studies show that readers of online news tend to click mostly on news covering issues that they already have some knowledge of, and also tend to mainly read opinion-based news that reflect their own views. Whereas readers of print media tend to read more opinion-based material opposed to their own views, and news on a larger variety of topics.

Miculescu said she was greatly worried about the young genereation of news consumers, getting their information solely via TV, radio and the internet. “They don’t go in depth,” she said.

Singh agreed to a certain point, saying that print media provides more “analytical and thoughtful” information compared with online news. Though he emphasized that it is human nature to be tempted to read brief infotainment online, instead of long and demanding newspaper articles.

“Populace must demand good information… The people as a whole will get the media they deserve,” Singh concluded.

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