Recently, it was widely reported that Telegraph stalwart Tony Gallagher had lost his long-held position as editor, while Guardian Media Group had sold its cash-cow AutoTrader (claiming that the capital could provide financial support for the next 30 years). In addition, the Independent – acquired by Alexander Lebedev for the princely sum of £1 in 2010 – is up for sale with growing losses and circulation in decline.
The problem it would seem, is the diminishing market share for print media as digital continues to make inroads. The FT now mentions the Telegraph and BuzzFeed in the same breath, but in an historical context, this is a case of a veteran broadsheet known for insightful commentary against a seven-year-old website known more for its entertaining list-based articles than hard-hitting journalism.
There are many candidate reasons for this change. We spend more of our lives online now glued to screens more or less constantly; it’s cheaper to run a website than print a paper; 24-hour online news is more nimble and quicker than a traditional broadsheet with a fixed time for news deadlines and a daily print-run.
Industry commentators have been pronouncing the demise of traditional media for years, yet still the veterans hang on. Some are even taking lessons from the digital world, with the Independent launching i in 2010, a low-cost and concise read bringing the brevity of digital to paper format. Whether or not it heralds a new direction for the broader format remains to be seen, but i has thus far been a successful venture, with circulation figures reported in 2012 many times that of its parent paper and still on the rise.
Perhaps, despite the convenience of online outlets, there is still a sense of brand loyalty to the traditional media and a perception that they remain the standard bearers of quality investigative journalism.
For example, the Guardian’s revenues have fallen by a quarter since 2008, but it is still the outlet leading the charge on phone hacking and Wikileaks, and broke the Edward Snowden revelations. Meanwhile, it was the the Telegraph that scooped and serialised the MP expenses scandal.
And one could argue there will always be a place for that journalism.
On the other end of the spectrum, the FT notes that the Daily Mail’s MailOnline is growing its sales more slowly than the paper itself is losing them – implying a net loss. However, it also notes that MailOnline is (by some measures) the most visited news website in the world. Hardly a death-rattle.
For PR professionals it raises an interesting question: Should you align yourself more closely with the digital revolution to gain your clients the most possible coverage, or perhaps remain focused on traditional, more long-form media when looking to promote more considered thought leadership?
Of course, there are no easy answers. But one thing is certain: if you work in PR, it presents at least as much excitement as uncertainty.