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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 27, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

    We Need To Talk About Newspapers

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    I have written this online. You are reading this online. No paper is involved. No trees died in this process of communication. Nor has any money changed hands. So where are we going?

    I watched the new documentary on the New York Times, called “Page One” in some places but under another title when I saw it on BBC4 recently. This is the must-see in media circles at the moment. 

    Frankly, I didn’t find it all that informative. The central figure was a former crack addict who now writes about media for the NYT – his name is David Carr.

    He was very entertaining and, despite his lurid past, has come to be respected as a serious and capable journalist. He was a strong defender of the NYT in the film.

    I have long been an admirer of that newspaper but this documentary did not give me any great insight into the ways in which the NYT is coping – or not coping as the case may be – with the new dimension that the internet has created. Feel free to contradict me if you feel it contained valuable lessons.

    Undoubtedly the world would be the poorer without the “Old Grey Lady”. The onset of online has posed a major challenge to that paper and to all the others.

    In the US, some very famous titles have closed down. We have had closures here, but not directly related to online. Nevertheless the challenge must be faced.

    It is often said that journalism is the second oldest profession in the world. But, unlike the oldest one, we are now giving away our services for free in many cases.

    There are scare-stories going around that print newspapers will end up as a delicacy for the upper middle-classes, like artisan cheese. Frightening if you work in the business and not without a degree of plausibility.

    At one time, I would have opposed setting up a “paywall” to force people to hand over money – albeit through their laser-cards – to read what we write and see the pictures we take.

    I have changed my mind about that. But it has to be done sensitively and gradually.

    I am no computer geek or wizard – far from it. There is another issue, though, whereby other websites are, er, enriching their store of knowledge from work that originated at a newspaper.

    What to do about that?

    The internet is a  wonderful creation and has revolutionised communications. Long may it thrive! But in the process it would be a pity if good journalists lost their jobs and long-established newspapers who are crucial pillars of democracy perished forever.

    Incidentally, the opinions expressed here are my own personal views and I am not a spokesman for The Irish Times Ltd.

    • maurice fitzmaurice says:

      where to start… if the industry is going to ask people to pay for online then we all have to jump at once, otherwise the punters will follow the free content. but somebody, industry leaders, who ever they are, need to move quick. at the rate we’re going we’ll all be out of a job or working for government press offices with no journalists left to answer to and then the world will be a poorer place, notwithstanding the antics now exposed by Leveson

    • Niall says:

      Some interesting points, but you really should have made mention of the revenue that can be derived from online advertisements, of which this site has plenty, and of the click-through model that isn’t available when someone follows up on an advertisement in a newspaper. Pay-walls can be avoided if the site is properly monetised. (I do hate that word).

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I used to pay for the IT online daily when for some reason it then became free – I assume there was a process behind that and lots of number crunching to make it worthwhile.

      I thought David Carr had almost completed the journey up his own a** – he was a media snob but I didn’t really learn much from the documentrary, but it was interesting.

      The online media have to find a way that’s quick and convenient to pay; for example I wouldn’t pay online everyday or pay for a year or week in advance, but I might pay if I could through my mobile phone and have the choice to agree or not – kind of like when you buy the paper you have to pay but you might not get around to reading it that day, but via text bill you get to buy that day’s paper and can have access to it for a week or 10 days or something and doing it by mobile allows a quick yes or no and no credit card nonsense with paypal account or visa verification etc and you get to pick which day you ‘buy’ the paper just like you would at a shop.

      You could go online to the IT site, you click yes or no to buy and you get a text which you accept or not, it then sends you a code which you input on the IT site. It would take 5 seconds.

      The price would need to be far cheaper than at the shop.

      The Irish media as far as I can recall has been pretty bad on exposing corruption and cronyism – possible because the political media is far too comfortable with the politicans it is meant to be reporting on. Perhaps if the media had led the debate a bit more and had some guts it could have exposed the corruption in politics or the abuse in the catholic church – it seems one mistake by RTE is going to be used as an excuse to attack media freedoms to report issues and the print media will probably stand by.

      When is the last time the Irish print media led on an issue akin to the Daily Telegraph in the UK?

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Wasn’t that documentary on before? I thought David Carr was a bit up his own a** to be honest.

      The IT could easily develop a way to maintain a revenue stream from the internet:

      You click on the IT site for that day, do you want to buy the paper today? Yes/No, then you get a text message which you accept or reject, if you accept you get a code, which you then enter into the site and gain access and you could have that access for that day for a week or 10 days etc, in case you don’t have time to read it that day, and be allowed to click on the start of sections to decide if you want to buy that day, ie I might want to buy it to keep a copy of one of my letters or to read an article etc.

      Should take 5 seconds to do and the cost should be far less than the cost of buying the paper.

      Pity there’s no Irish newspaper interesting in doing the work of proper journalism that was done by The Telegraph in the UK regarding MPs expenses. Such a feature would never happen in Ireland as the political media or far too close to the people they are meant to be impartially reporting or holding to account instead it’s all chums and pally pally.

      It’s not healthy for democracy and perhaps it’s a reason for the print media decline.

    • barbera.www says:

      Ok, so no trees have “died” as you mention Deaglán but energy is still being used………….and it all boils down to energy consumption………..just different configurations of that throughout history (horse power, steam power, nuclear power, etc.) but surely, though, at this advanced stage in the Internet’s development, newspaper journalists worldwide could form an internet pact………whereby all opinion/analysis pieces, at least, are “paywalled” …….and maybe all news should be “paywalled” and on a sliding scale………..popular journalists making bigger bucks and so on down to reporters making smaller bucks, etc. but this would have to be a worldwide legal binding agreement so that no news is free news..
      What am I saying.!…….No no no..!! Bad idea don’t do this..!!!
      Really though, I think the next few years will be about codification and the Internet and “cyber lawyers” will make mega bucks.

    • @2: You are right, I made no mention of advertising revenue which is of course critically important.

    • Peter Barrins says:

      It seems to me that newspapers have been slow to respond to changes in the market place and external threats, one being the internet and online media sources.

      If there was no printed version of the IT tomorrow and an unline version only, what impact would this have on revenue and the future of the Irish Times? Would sufficient people pay for the online version or would they look elsewhere for their news? Ultimately, if there was a complete withdrawal of printed newspapers the entire market place would be redefined. It does, however, pose some serious questions about the future of professional journalism.

      I read somewhere that music companies are planning to phase out CDs over the next two years and Kindle sales are increasing steadily – this would seem to spell the complete demise of hardcopy media formats or their relegation to a niche.

    • @7: Future looks brighter for trees!

    • BB says:

      Since trees are still at issue here it is important that trees have their say.

      TREE TALK:


      WOODN’T WE BECOME USELESS? – Weeping Willow


      PRAVDA AND NOTHING BUT THE PRAVDA – Siberian crab apple

      STIMULATING JOURNALS -WAY TO GO! – Berlin poplar



      LET’S STOP PINING – Pine

      SPEAK FOR YOURSELF – Prickly castor oil tree



      RATHER PERPLEXING – Monkey puzzle tree

      WE SHOULD STICK WITH IT – Gum tree


      THIS IS ALL CONKERS – Horse chestnut

      WE’LL GET SICK IF WE HEAR ANY MORE – Syc-a-mores


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