The Essentiality of the Newspaper: An Argument Against the Death of Print News
May 24, 2011 2 Comments
By Lachlan Macdonald
The belief that it would be better for everyone, journalists included, if hard copy news would just hurry up and die, is running well ahead of its time. The current state of affairs for many African nations is such that a move to abandon the traditional medium of news dissemination for a soft, online version, would leave many stranded, uninformed and left behind. The long-term effects of such a move are catastrophic; the already rampant gene-coefficient would spiral out of control creating an even more disparate, elite vs. proletariat-kind of society, of the nature we have long fought to demolish. The Preceding paper rebuts the arguments put forward by Elie Malamba-Lenge Nzangula who writes in favour of the abandonment of hard copy news due to the prolificacy of the online medium. Following this the author will present a further argument against the aforementioned belief that newspapers should just go ahead and die. To be fair, the counter arguments to follow will focus on South Africa, one of the most democratically and economically stable countries on the continent. Hence the points referred to will be of an optimistic nature, relative to the rest of Africa.
Nzangula’s first argument looks at the demographic of online users in the US and UK and concludes that the newspaper will die-out because of its generational applicability, that is the older, newspaper reading generation will eventually make way for the younger online generation. However, what Nzangula should realise, particularly as a DRC national, is that the US and UK have some of the most advanced internet services in the world as well as the highest GDPs and standards of living. So while his claim maybe true of those nations, which is still very debatable, the African context holds a very different set of truths. In fact, according to SouthAfrica.info, contrary to global trends, South Africa is seeing remarkable growth of newspaper readership due in part to the uplifting of the lower end of the market in terms of standard of living. The website also states that South Africa boasts a newspaper readership 12 million for daily publications and 17 million for weekly publications. To put that into perspective, South Africa has a population, as of mid-2010, of 49.99 million, 31% (15.5 million) of which are under the age of 15, and 13.6% (4.7 million) of those are illiterate. Therefore South Africa has a possible readership of no more than 29.8 million people, meaning that some 57% of the reading population still receive their news via hard copy newspapers.
Nzangula’s second argument was based on the idea that advertisers would be drawn to the Internet for its wider audience and consequently newspapers would lose advertising revenue. Andy Davis of the South African online publication Mahala is adamant that there is little money to be had in online publications at the moment. This, he believes, is due to the serious lack of confidence by corporations in the effectiveness of online advertising. For this reason, Davis is trying to adjust the Mahala business plan to include a monthly print edition. Davis also believes the average reader still wants access to hard copy news and places more value and trust in that medium. Furthermore, John Bowles of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau says that the 2007 Roots 007 survey found community newspapers to be the preferred source of advertising information for residents in Soweto. Once again South Africa is resisting some global trends, so while advertisers may change their views in time, it seems for the foreseeable future advertising revenue is still safely nestled in newspapers.
In terms of quality of news production, it would be naïve to suggest that more is better. The negatives of online news dissemination are well know; civilian journalism, lack of fact checking and mediation, and unreliability of sources and authenticity of information. Newspapers have, inherent in their nature, a series of checks and balances that keep them, somewhat honest. Journalists must work hard to be published in a newspaper. There is an undeniable element of professionalism required. Online news, on the other hand, can be created by any Joe with a server and a website. For this reason there is a much greater degree of trust from readers.
Nzangula concludes his argument on perhaps his least convincing note. While it is true that devices such as the iPad, kindle, cell phones and computers have made it possible for the media to deliver news anywhere and anytime, these devices are still somewhat inaccessible to many South Africans. The Stats SA report on income and expenditure of households shows that 55.4% of households had incomes of less than R1620 per month. When you consider that the price of an iPad is between R4399 and R7599 – the equivalent of 5 months income – the dream of receiving news on such devices becomes just that, a dream. South Africa’s largest selling newspaper costs just R2.30; when you add up the cost of devices, internet access, and ever increasing online tariffs, online publications can never compete.
The ever-growing realm of online news production offers the world a fast, dynamic, and forward thinking medium from which to receive a wide variety of varying opinions from near and far. There is little doubt that the internet will dominate many of our lives, as well as the way we receive information in the near future, but not for all of us. Although the income figures stated in the previous section are somewhat dated, there is a strong possibility that the consensus planned for South Africa later this year, 2011, will yield similar, otherwise less dramatic results. For many, not just in South Africa, but globally, the financial requisite for effectively receiving news online makes it simply impossible. To suggest that newspapers should just go ahead and die, one would require an extreme Western-centric attitude and a bucket of sand big enough to fit their head into.
Let us imagine for a moment that all newspapers shut down their printing presses and focused all content online. It would not only be the 65 plus-year-old Brits and Americans that would be alienated, as Mr Nzangula would have us believe, but rather billions of people in developing countries across the world. And not just alienated either, but cut off from everything. The ex-readers of newspapers would have little knowledge of what was happening the next suburb over let alone internationally. Consider the South African media situation. The SABC are running a very pro-ANC mandate, that is indisputable, without the large variety of newspapers currently available to them, the millions of South Africans who cannot afford the luxuries of DSTV or the internet would have no opportunity to receive varied opinions or balanced reporting. It is a short slip from here to Nazism (perhaps that is overstating the point, but still). The very foundations of democracy and freedom are put into jeopardy.
To conclude, while online news plays and will continue to play a vital part in the way many of us receive information, the socio-economic status of a majority of the world’s population have not the means rely exclusively on that medium. Aside from that, many still do not wish to. So, since the capitalist model works on a supply and demand function, it is possible human beings may never see the death of the newspaper. Gareth Richards from Mags Magazine said he believes the Mail and Guardian website simply compliments the newspaper, and
“so print readership will come under pressure, but it won’t completely die out. Also it’s critical to understand the timing of this – print will be a strong and viable proposition for years to come, so while it is important to keep an eye on the future it is nonsensical to talk about the “death of print” when most print titles are still performing and are the bread and butter of many media operations. It’s still a long way down”.
This seems the most plausible future, like the newspaper survived the introduction of the radio, and both survived the introduction of the television, hard copy news will survive and adapt to co-exist with online news production.
 Stats SA, ‘Mid-year population estimates, 2010’, (July 2010), Available at http://www.statssa.gov.za/PublicationsHTML/P03022010/html/P03022010.html, accessed 23 May 2011; CIA, ‘Literacy’, World Fact Book, (Updated 23 May 2011), Available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2103.html, accessed 23 May 2011.
 John Bowles, ‘Caxton Community Newspapers Dominate Soweto Suburbs’, The Marketing Site, Available at http://www.themarketingsite.com/live/content.php?Item_ID=7422, Accessed 23 May 2011.
 Stats SA, ‘Income and Expenditure of Households’, South Africa Statistical Release, (2000), Available at http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0111/P01112000.pdf, Accessed 23 May 2011.
 From an interview between Gareth Richards and Matthew Buckland, 19 March 2008, Available at http://memeburn.com/2008/03/online-media-strategies-the-future-of-print-interview-with-mags-magazine/, accessed 23 May 2011.
Bowles, John, ‘Caxton Community Newspapers Dominate Soweto Suburbs’, The Marketing Site, Available athttp://www.themarketingsite.com/live/content.php?Item_ID=7422, Accessed 23 May 2011.
Buckland, Matthew, ‘Online media strategies & the future of print: Interview with Mags magazine’, memeburn (2008), Available at http://memeburn.com/2008/03/online-media-strategies-the-future-of-print-interview-with-mags-magazine/, Accessed 23 May 2011.
CIA, ‘Literacy’, World Fact Book, (Updated 23 May 2011), Available at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2103.html, accessed 23 May 2011.
Davis, Andy, ‘Ongoing conversations’ (2009-2011), details on request.
SouthAfrica.co.za, ‘The Press in South Africa’ (2011), Available athttp://www.southafrica.info/about/media/news.htm, accessed 23 May 2011.
Stats SA, ‘Income and Expenditure of Households’, South Africa Statistical Release (2000), Available athttp://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P0111/P01112000.pdf, Accessed 23 May 2011.
Stats SA, ‘Mid-year population estimates, 2010’, South Africa Statistical Release (2010), Available athttp://www.statssa.gov.za/PublicationsHTML/P03022010/html/P03022010.html, accessed 23 May 2011.