Hold Page One…Are Newspapers Dead?

There are precious and enjoyable times in life when one’s work, interests and free time intersect in a pleasurable way, and for me that happened this week when I had the great delight to watch Page One, a documentary about iconic American masthead The New York Times.

Even if you are not inside the world of PR or even of the media more broadly, there is still much to fascinate and inspire about this film, which takes a look inside the impressive veneer of the Times and gives us a very clear-eyed glimpse into exactly what is happening to established and esteemed newspapers around the world, struggling to maintain their competitiveness and profitability in a world drunk on the quick fix of social media.

The film tracks a 14 month period in the life of The New York Times as seen through the eyes and experiences of some key and engaging players, both writers and newspaper executives, at a time when Wikileaks – by circumventing regular news dissemination channels – had prompted many to wonder what the future held for newspapers in general, even one as venerated as The Times, a paper which had broken such seminal stories as Watergate and the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib prison.

Sadly, as I write, the very short screening season of this film has already ended, but I commend it to you nonetheless, as it is a fascinating, insightful and highly entertaining peek behind the curtain of mainstream print news, and poses many uneasy questions about the future of print in our digital age.

As one of the protagonists poignantly enquires: “The New York Times has dozens of bureaux around the world, we’re going to toss that out and just see what Facebook turns up?”  Hmmm.

There is no doubt that influential and prestigious newspapers like the Times still do set the agenda, and as we observed at Publicity Queen with our own experience in ‘going viral’ with the story about Sampson the fat Labrador that became a global sensation, the story began through a major broadsheet, in our case The Herald Sun.

Perhaps what is happening and needs to happen is that newspapers play to their strengths – investigative journalism, analysis, research; featuring well-regarded columnists and reporting with a sense of history and perspective, and use social media to source the news and to disseminate it after it has broken; and rather than competing with its immediacy, use these new digital forms to run with the agenda that the hard news creates in the first place.

Neale Whitaker, Editor in Chief of Belle Magazine, in our interview with him in September, spoke eloquently when we asked his thoughts about the reported impending death of print media, he wrote: “I certainly don’t believe that print is on its way out as a medium.  Print just has to learn how to adapt to the new mediums and work in conjunction with them. Nothing can ever replace the smell and feel of a new magazine. It’s one of life’s great luxuries.”  Quite.

And try as I might, touch-scrolling through news articles on my iPad with a coffee in the morning cannot replace the crinkly enjoyment of a morning paper.  Long may it be so.

Publicity QueenYours in PR,

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