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Mick Temple's Blog

PAPERING OVER THE CRACKS

15-09-2007

With free newspapers undercutting their paid-for counterparts and the internet offering an alternative source of news, what price the British press? Mick Temple is surprisingly upbeat about its future.

This week I have mostly been at Cardiff University attending a conference on ‘the future of newspapers'. Thank you The Fast Show for the introduction.

Despite declining sales across all markets in the UK - local, national, Sundays - the consensus was that newspapers do have a future. Across the developing world, newspaper sales are booming.

There's a thirst for the information in developing democracies, and in countries where the digital revolution is in its infancy, traditional printed newspapers will continue to play a valuable role.

Quite what the future will be for British newspapers is less clear. For example, The Guardian is read by millions online every day but fewer than 400,000 buy the paper, and that number is nose-diving month by month.

Exclusively electronic and geographically targeted news sites such as The Stirrer are increasingly popular - but can they replace local and regional newspapers which are under enormous pressure in such a competitive market?

Revolting he may be, but Piers Morgan may have something when he says that newspapers have a great future - but that future is online, end of story.

For those of us (me included) who experience severe withdrawal symptoms when our regular morning newspaper fails to pop through the letter-box, the idea of a future without that wonderfully magical combination of ink on paper seems bleak.

For the less Luddite among us the response to the demise of newspapers will be more sanguine: let the printed press go the way of rickets, Spangles and Alf Tupper.

No ink on your fingers, no reading news already at least ten hours out of date, no having to pay for masses of articles you will never read - on the face of it, it seems like a no-brainer.

And yet - newspapers bring delights that no other medium is capable of delivering, at least so far. Not least of these is serendipity - the moment when you find yourself reading an article you would never have looked up on the net or on the online version but happens to be opposite, for example, Keith Waterhouse's column.

Newspapers also keep you up-to-date with worlds you're not really interested in - celebrity culture anyone? - but which are vital to any understanding of the modern world.

No one will read 1500 words of daily political commentary online - online arguments have to be less complex and inevitably work best when conversational and interactive. The voice of authority is usually missing.

So far, websites fail to deliver the coherent and distinctive voice of a great newspaper - even the best - the Sun, the Guardian - are effectively separate rooms in a big house rather than a home.

And newspapers are cheap, portable and transferable - when we've finished with our copy we can leave it on the train for the next traveller.

Every new medium brings with it claims that traditional media will fade away. Radio would kill, newspapers, TV would kill radio, and the internet is allegedly killing both TV and newspapers. All bunkum - reinvention has been a constant feature of newspaper development.

My prediction - newspapers will adapt and flourish in the digital era. And if I'm wrong, I'll be long dead and past caring.

Do newspapers have a future? And which ones do Stirrer readers rate and hate? Leave a comment on the Message Board.

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