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About A Week: The Web Is Winning The News War

Peter Hinchliffe reports that the Internet is overtaking newspapers as a source of news.

Americans are now more likely to click onto the Internet to get their news, rather than reading daily newspapers.

For the first time during 2008 the Net overtook printed news as the source of the latest headline stories.

Television is still the leading news source, but Net news is in hot pursuit.

The Pew Research Centre, based in Washington DC, reports that the Web became the main news supplier to 40% per cent of the people they questioned. Only 35% read newspapers to find out what was going in the world.

Television news watching declined from 74% to 70%. These statistics reveal that people get the news from more than one source – but they re-emphasise the fact that print journalism is in serious trouble.

Thousands of jobs have been lost in the US news industry in the past year, Sales and advertising revenue are declining at an alarming rate. Lifetime readers are breaking the habit of picking up a daily paper.

Pew report that people under 29 are stampeding towards Web news sources. The numbers surged from 34 per cent to 59 per cent in a year. Only 28% were newspaper readers.

Last month the publisher of two of America’s biggest newspaper, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, declared bankruptcy.

Tribune Co, owned by real estate mogul Sam Zell, is un debt. It includes eight major newspapers and several television stations. Like most newspapers in North America it has been hit by declining advertising revenue and circulations.

Tribune Co, which also owns the Baltimore Sun and the Orlando Sentinel, was reported according to its bankruptcy filing, to have $7.6 billion in assets and debt amounting to $12.97 billion.

The perfect storm of declining sales and advertising revenue, coupled with an increasingly on-line world, is also menacing the future of British newspapers.

The BBC reported that daily newspapers in Scotland are in crisis. They are coming to terms with their lowest-ever sales figures.

They face mighty competition from the national newspapers in London, and also the loss of heavy advertising from local government authorities who can now use their own Web sites to announce their services and job vacancies.

A leading industry authority predicted that famous Scottish daily papers may go out of business within the next ten years.

As someone who spent almost 50 years as a journalist working for newspapers in the UK, USA and Kenya, I find the current rate of decline of print journalism so shocking as to be almost unbelievable.

In the early 1950s, when I was learning the reporting trade, everyone who could read scanned the columns of local and national newspapers.

In the mid-1960s, when I working for the Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds, the paper’s audited sale was 274,000 copies a day. Now it sells less than 60,000 copies a day.

A publication I worked for in a large Yorkshire industrial town began 2009 by becoming a morning rather than an evening newspaper.

Nineteen van drivers lost their jobs, along with a number of journalists. The paper is now printed on the Daily Mirror press in Lancashire, rather than in the town in which it was born in 1851.

The town centre premises in which it was written and printed from 1861 to 1990 now house a bank, a building society and a night club.

I own a painting of that newspaper plant (yes I am sentimental) and every time I glance at it I think of the halcyon days of print journalism.

For a time I was the paper’s court reporter, covering the appearances in the dock of men and women charged with crimes from minor to major – stealing a couple of pens from a local store all the way up to murder.

At 3.15 pm I would dash back to the office with hand-written reports, and those reports would appear in the paper’s last edition.

On Saturday afternoons I covered football. I would phone the office four or five times with running reports of a game which kicked off at 3 pm. By 4.50 pm I would have phoned my concluding sentences and the final score.

When I arrived back at the newspaper office less than 30 minutes later, the final sports edition containing my report was on sale in the town centre and was being rushed to newsagents over a wide area in distinctive orange-painted vans.

Readers now have to wait until Monday to read match reports. And local news is for the most part 24 hours old when it arrives in newsprint.

In the 1970s the paper reached a peak circulation for of 51,000 a day. Now it is sinking towards 20,000 a day.

My journalistic life was ruled by a clock. Get the news out to the reader as quickly as possible.

Now the expression “hot of the press’’ is history.

In this 21st Century it’s HOT OFF THE NET.


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