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UK Newspapers Face Carnage Scenario
Emily Bell estimates five titles could disappear in two years
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2008-10-22 13:25 (KST)   
Speaking at the opening Digital Leadership Dialogue event at POLIS on Tuesday, Emily Bell spoke of "carnage" for UK media, the regional press heading for "complete market failure," and the BBC as the only remaining broadcaster owned in the UK.

The use of the word "carnage" was bound to get attention, even if the problems for UK newspaper circulation are well known. According to Microsoft Encarta it can mean "widespread and indiscriminate slaughter or massacre, especially of human beings" or "serious injury to a great many people, e.g. in a major accident". So this event could be indiscriminate or accidental, a fate for journalists that would be unforeseen and undeserved.

Emily Bell
©2008 BillT / Flickr / Creative Commons
Writing later in the Guardian, Emily Bell quoted a "senior news executive" who had suggested that:
"the News International titles would survive because of the robust focus and funding of Rupert Murdoch's parent company, that the Associated titles - the Mail and Mail on Sunday - were likewise on firm ground, and that the Guardian titles, because of the Scott Trust purpose and funding structure of the parent company, would all live on, as would the FT because of its brand equity and focus. But the medium- to long-term future for all other titles would be questionable."
So the casualties could include the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and Daily Telegraph. The People and The Independent would make five but the Sundy Mirror and Sunday Telegraph would take the number to seven.

The Journalism Web site reported a section of Emily Bell's talk that dealt with the transition to online news as well as print.
Even the surviving brands will have to undergo a long period of what's essentially an unprofitable existence. The traditional news media are failing to produce 'differentiated' content online amongst a hurricane of knowledge and publishing caused by the growth self-publishing online, such as blogging.

To address this outlets should move away from the editorial models of the 'age of representation', where news organisations published what they thought readers should know to an age of participation and a better understanding of who the audience is.
The gloomy view of advertising income is widely shared. Tim Bradshaw in the Financial Times reports Enders research that "UK online display advertising market was at best flat in the third quarter, compared with the same period last year". Bradshaw estimates that 40 percent to 50 percent of the online audience for UK newspaper Web sites is from outside the UK and this is a difficult basis for selling advertising.

As reported on the Journalism Web site, Emily Bell traces the shift for the Guardian to the events of Sept. 11 2001, as the paper's Web site attracted a substantial audience from the US.

"We suddenly had a global audience we weren't creating journalism for. We thought we were creating international journalism for a UK audience. That's something which has accelerated in the last seven years and has reached terminal velocity."

The UK news organisations need to adjust both to a global online audience and to the conventions of a Web conversation. Jeff Jarvis writes once a fortnight in the print version of the Guardian and on the blog Buzzmachine. His slides on a "New Business model for News" are already available online and will be discussed at the CUNY School of Journalism. My suggestion would be to look at the role of editors in a system such as OhmyNews. In the US the idea of citizen journalism seems to be that subeditors are no longer needed.

Jarvis believes that there is still time for journalists to effect change. Writing in the Guardian recently he argued that journalists should take responsibility for what happens to newspapers:
The fall of journalism is journalists' fault. It is our fault we did not see change coming soon enough and ready our craft for its transition. It is our fault we did not exploit - hell, too many resisted - the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented. It is our fault we lost readers and squandered trust. It is our fault we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left business to the business people. It is our fault we sat back and expected some princely patron to support us.
In my opinion the printed version of the Guardian too often continues the resistance that Jarvis identifies. Other people may have a different impression but below are a couple of examples from recent issues. On Saturday the bookish section included a review of the paperback of Nicholas Breasley's "The Cult of the Amateur." John Dugdale wrote:
Keen does overpolarise - he only grudgingly concedes that not everything served up by new media is trashy. paints an over-rosy picture of mainstream news providers and includes Hollywood studios in his list of threatened pillars of civilisation. But his points are well made and he comes up with thought-provoking solutions, including government intervention to curb excesses.
There has yet to be any review in the Guardian of the book 'Everything is Miscellaneous' by David Weinberger.

In the Education section this week there is an interview by Peter Kingston with John Denham, minister responsible for adult learning. An emphasis on vocational skills has reduced the general budget by over a million places. Previously a case has been made for informal learning such as browsing the Web at home. But here is how Peter Kingston phrases his question:
Is all the talk about the numbers of people learning by watching television, or surfing on their computers, or going to galleries and museums, or researching their family trees really an effort to divert attention from what had happened to evening classes? Surely the government has no business including the numbers watching YouTube or trawling Wikipedia in its policy-making.
Not surprisingly the Minister has not got much to say about informal learning on the Web. The Guardian rarely reports on possible educational benefits from technology except in supplements funded by advertisers.

My suggestion for the Guardian and other threatened newspapers would be that the transition to online would be easier without trying to use the print versions to rubbish the same potential audience. On current trends, the Carnage Scenario seems quite likely.

©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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