There have been a lot of stories going around the last few months, about the future of newspapers and how they are in jeopardy because of the Net. (great links and summary of key articles at Rosen’s Flying Seminar in the Future of News) I’ll refer to some of those, whilst giving a personal perspective and some insight from working with our users and those resources.
I guess my thoughts began even before I saw the Pew Research Center for the People & The Press report from December 2008. The Internet Overtakes Newspapers As News Outlet released survey findings that showed the Internet bypassed all other forms of media, excepting TV, as a source for both national and international news.
Since then, there have been many big stories from the US mainly, about newspapers closing down or downsizing, as their sales slide down. That’s not to say that people aren’t interested in news, they are just finding it in different ways.
During the February 09 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, I was on the Herald-Sun newspaper website several times a day, looking for the latest information and images from the disaster. That was also the place I went to when we experienced two earth tremors within a few weeks of each in March 09. I found that besides Twitter (which by the way, the Herald-Sun was also monitoring), that this was the quickest source to pick up the news.
Great for the paper, that people are turning to them online to read that up-to-date content, now they just have to try and make money out of it, so that they can keep providing that content. What model they will take up is unknown as yet, but it will have to be one that doesn’t scare people aware from using their content, ala New York Times with their paid subs.
Interestingly though, there is a definite interest in the physical act of reading a newspaper, but in an online environment. A number of years ago, my library subscribed to an online database that enabled the reader to read the newspaper online looking like the actual paper itself. So when you get the newspaper on screen, it looks exactly like the paper copy. You click on the bottom corner and can turn the page and can continue doing so, from front to back and to front again. Alternatively, you can skip to particular pages or sections as you like.
We subscribed to that database initially to give our users access to international newspapers, so that local residents could read their home country newspaper, in the language of its origin. No waiting for airmail deliveries etc, you could read it within a day of its publication (allowing for time differences of course). What has happened in the last year, is that our users are using it to access our major daily newspapers and reading them online as they would physically. Use of that database has increased exponentially in that time and the vast majority of that use is around the major dailies.
On the otherhand, use of the databases that indexes the same newspapers, the one that students use a lot for assignments etc, has remained fairly static in comparison.
Which brings us to the local level. Our local newspapers have had online presences for a while, but no archive to speak of. One of our local newspaper chains is now available through a newspaper database, but only beginning this year. After nearly 10 years of archives of our major dailies, this is long overdue. But with the disappearance of local papers in the US, I wonder how long our local papers will remain with us and whether this is too little too late.
And if it is, what will happen to local news. Again the US gives some idea of direction with new Web start-ups looking to fill that gap. Hyperlocal web sites deliver news without newspapers ironically appears in the New York Times. Go check it out and then think about where your local news will come from if the newspapers themselves disappear. Is this a gap that the public library can step into and if so, how?
Interestingly, I do still sometimes read the physical newspaper, but only if it happens to be in front of me, I don’t go to seek it out. With the major dailies, its usually to acquaint myself with the important (or on slow news days, not so important) topics of current interest, but more importantly, to catch up on the comics and the sports I am interested in. I also read my local papers (we get 3), mainly for things of personal interest or that of my family, or that relate to my local area or promote the library.
Do you still read the physical newspaper, local, major daily or national, or do you prefer to do all your news seeking online? Is the format you use dependent on whether you browse or particularly seek, like me? Would love to hear your habits and thoughts as we all might have to change them in coming years.