Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Monday, 20 April 2009
Tuesday, 21 April 2009 01:47

Today's challenges for the press

Newspapers are not doing well, it’s been around five years that newspapers’ sales are declining. And since the beginning of 2009, the financial crisis and the shrinking of revenues, the situation has become a lot worse, many newspapers in the US are under the menace of bankruptcy. It’s been the case for example, the Rocky Mountain News, a newspaper founded in 1859. In France as well, daily newspapers have been constantly asking for government subsidies in order to survive. A plan of 300 million euros on 3 years has been adopted in the beginning of 2009, which can be quite dangerous for the independence of the press.

So, as advertisement budgets are shrinking, classifieds have migrated to the Internet, and the movement is amplified by the crisis (newspaper advertising sales in 2008 fell by a record $7.5 billion, or 16.6% in the US). Newspapers used to think that the ad money they lost on the paper version would be compensated by the ad money made on the Internet. They realize now that it is not the case: a reader for an online news website only enables the company to make a few dollars a year.

What can newspapers do to survive in these troubled times?

They should focus on their value, on their unique specificities that make them different from their competitors. Contrary to a lot of Internet content which is accessible for free, newspapers have a price and therefore must provide the readers with a VALUE that is worth that PRICE. A focus on the freshness of information is not relevant today: most of the news in papers is now obsolete when the paper is sold. Information as a pure commodity is not a source of value anymore: with channels of diffusion such as Twitter, information is made universally available and instantaneously.

But newspapers have other advantages to put forward, such as the wide array of information they provide and the coherent way they organize them. Also the prestigious and valuable analysts that they have can make a difference. By a work of selection, an original angle and some unique analyses, newspapers can still create information with added value, that can therefore be monetized. With that in mind, big newspapers can build some successful Internet models by finding a good balance between free contents that help retaining large audiences and paid-for contents which is the value added-part of their content. On this segment, there will be a competition between traditional newspapers and pure Internet players such as the Huffington Post or Slate.

Another way of making money for big newspapers is to monetize their huge archive: something that is being done in France for several years by Le Monde, for instance, whose archives are accessible in exchange of a payment. A step further is to allow other websites to embed some of the paper’s original information: a system that is being experienced by The Guardian, who just launched on March 10th their Open Platform Program. The idea is to allow other websites to use for free a newspaper’s contents, with the consequence of driving huge traffic towards the newspaper’s website. This can be a way for newspapers with huge resources and a good way of classifying their information to reinforce their readership.

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Beyond economic reality, society suffers today from a deep disenchantment of the world that one could even call an identity crisis. Today, we put forward the individual and not the collective as if the material successes of each one could create happiness for all. Then consumption loses its first finality which is to meet our needs. We finally all consume because others consume. Paradoxically, the models of success conveyed by the media and publicity always put the exception and the performance ahead. It seems necessary to consume to be distinguished, to see its success and difference. A famous French adman has said recently that “if, at fifty, you do not own a Rolex, it means that you have failed your life”. Beyond the cynical message conveyed by this image of success, this logic of claiming one’s identity from consumption is also doomed because our consumption goods are by essence meant to be consumed, to be replaced: the brand new Rolex supposed to represent our success will probably be out-of-date and replaced by a newer model a couple of months later.


We simply forget why we consume and also, what we really want. Is our vocation to consume more and more? As I grew up in a developed country, I have always been supported and surrounded by a society of consumption. I have been incessantly encouraged to consume until consumption in itself became a wish and then a need. The logic of needs, natural at first, has spread to all human desires. Society grasps all of our desires, transform them into needs and then organise the collective production to comply with them.


Isn’t it time to reconsider the economic development model which had lead to the current crisis? Capitalism, since this is what it is all about, if proved to be reliable in creation of wealth, has also showed its incapacity to take into account the environmental, social or ethical dimensions. There is an urgency to define an ’alterdevelopment’ which would be a development radically different from that of today, a plural development of our societies which could propose the exemption from payment, unconditional access to rights, a new relation to time, an alter-globalisation and ecologist step. And alterdevelopment involves a reflexion on a division of relational goods, services with the people, service to the repair of goods (rather than to produce goods of which the lifespan is becoming increasingly short), of cultural and associative activities. Consumption must indeed be related to the aspiration for a better quality of life, and not with an unlimited accumulation of goods, illusory promises of happiness. The objective is to think of consumption in a new way, to put it back in a model of development which should be more accurately, respectful of the environment and, most of all, in phase with our true needs.


Photo by C. Phiv

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