Digitalization has changed the world in many areas of life, such as music, film, gaming, and the publishing business. Internet and the social media have introduced new channels through which it is possible to communicate information to different people at near real-time speeds. This cannot be without its effects on the practice and future of mass communication.
One area, however, where there has been little public discussion about these changes is the local newspaper business.
Long TraditionsThe place of local newspapers at the center of their local community has remained almost unchanged for many decades. As their local area's main channel of information, the newspaper's status has been unshakeable and the financial situation of most newspapers has been good or even excellent. Businesses operating in the local area have perceived the local newspaper as a good way to market their products and services, and so over time the newspaper's number of subscribers has gradually increased. However, the situation is changing.
Now nearly all local newspapers are wrestling with the challenges posed by digitalization. Advertisers are fading away, and people are not renewing their subscriptions. Old and faithful subscribers who are now passing away are not being replaced by subscribers from the younger generation. Or perhaps they would subscribe if the newspapers knew how to offer them information in new ways. Now is the time to consider what the future is bringing along, what has been done so far, and what direction we are heading in.
Digitalization – Boon or Bane?
First of all it is essential to realize that if one wants to succeed in this field of work in the future, new rules need to be learned. New consumers are no longer satisfied with content which is presented in the same form that it has been habitually presented for decades. Now it must also be on view in the new electronic media. Customers must be approached using very different means, and communication must be made more interactive and communal. It is no longer enough that the newspaper publishes letters to the editor. Paper newspapers will of course manage to keep going, but statistics tell each year the same harsh story; the circulation of paper newspapers is decreasing and the circulation of digital newspapers is increasing. And this trend should not be expected to change. In addition, people want to read content also from web pages, blogs and the social media. Somehow, from all of this, profitable business activity needs to be achieved, even though some consumers have got used to getting everything for free.
The Future of Local NewspapersEvery local newspaper that hasn't already done so must right now get done to business and think through what place it wants to have in its own community in, for example, around five years' time. Is the goal to be a paper-churning dinosaur with an ever-dwindling customer base or a diverse media house operating as a key influencer in your locality's digital community? It is no doubt clear to all which of these two options offers a sustainable future for a newspaper's activities.
The Future Begins TodayIf nothing is done soon about this matter, then the situation will soon be urgent. A modern media business strategy is not born in a moment. Its planning, implementation, testing, and breaking-in can even take years. If a local newspaper doesn't what to start out on this journey, other candidates will most certainly be found. In the distanceless digital society gaps in the market are quickly filled.
The first action step could be to sit down with one's own team and map out the situation. There is no need to be afraid even if the new terrain seems strange and difficult. The field is full of examples of those who have successfully set out on this path, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel. And if it seems there is a need for outside opinions and know-how, this too can certainly be found from surprisingly close quarters.