Is this the end of traditional journalism?

Dr Jeniri Amir

The age of digital media is here knocking right on our door. Like it or not, journalists and media practitioners have to face it head on.

With the advent of the Internet, the mainstream media and the print media are struggling with a loss of advertising revenue and audience, especially among the young generation.

Is this an ominous sign of the beginning of the end of journalism?

In the United Kingdom, the loss of advertising revenues has plummeted. In 2017 for example, newspaper advertising has fallen to £1.9 billion (11.2 per cent of market share), while significantly, digital advertising spending grew from £7.1 billion (47.5 per cent) in 2014 to a prominence above all legacy media at £9 billion (53.8 per cent) in 2017.

Some 250 local newspapers – approximately one-quarter of the UK local newspaper market – announced losses of £248.7 million in the first six months of 2013.

The newspapers are facing challenging situation and the industry needs the support of all sectors to survive especially the public sector, private sector, GLCs and readers.

Overall, advertising revenue in leading newspapers in the United States has been in decline since 2008.

How many still read newspapers every morning? Is newspaper only for those above 40 years old?

Recently, on November 30, the country’s oldest newspaper, Malay Mail, which began publishing on December 14, 1896 marked the end of its 122-year-old print history. The once popular newspaper went fully digital on December 2.

National newspapers like Berita Harian, The Star, Harian Metro, The New Straits Times, and Utusan Malaysia are no longer printed in Sarawak since last year.

In fact, national papers are no longer distributed in the state, creating serious socio-political implications, especially in terms of dissemination of information and national integration.

During the media industry’s heyday, 60,000 copies of national papers were printed here.

The pertinent question to ponder, is there still light at the end of the tunnel for print media, especially newspapers?

Some regards newspaper industry as a sunset industry.

New York Times CEO Mark Thompson told CNBC in early February this year that the newspaper may have only another decade of life.

“I believe at least 10 years is what we can see in the US for our print products,” Thompson was quoted as saying by the TV station.

He said he’d like to have the print edition “survive and thrive as long as it can”.

However, he admitted it might face an expiration date simply because of economic reasons where the print paper no longer makes sense.

According to Thompson, digital subscriptions, in fact, may be what’s keeping the New York Times afloat for a new generation of readers.

He said the number of print subscribers is relatively constant, “with a little bit of a decline every time” that it added 157,000 digital subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2017, the company said in January.

Are e-paper and news portal the answer to this situation?

However, at least the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI) chief executive officer Datuk Dr Chamil Wariya has faith in newspaper.

The print media won’t become extinct from this world. The former editor of Utusan Malaysia and News Division Head of TV3 said he still has faith in the future of print media.

The print media would be able to survive amidst the challenges from the social and new media, but the industry players cannot expect a high circulation figure of up to half a million once enjoyed by certain newspapers in the country.

Therefore, he suggested, the publishers and editors have to go for a niche market like business and politics to attract new readers.

Journalists are facing, like many other professions, a digitalisation of their business. Like it or not, journalists and reporters have to adjust accordingly with the change in the media landscape.

Social media practitioners are known for spreading news without verification. Actually, now everybody can be a journalist, at least as a citizen journalist. Fears of misinformation and distorted information which have strong tendency to shape public perception exist.

As professionals, journalists are required to check and recheck before submitting any story written to the editors or subeditors.

What remain vital are the core values and cardinals of journalism: to filter the information gathered from sources, edit, check and recheck, make analysis, and give objective comments.

The fundamentals of checking facts and verification have existed for decades and won’t become obsolete.

This is the main pillar of professional journalism. Journalists are always advised to verify accuracy of facts to be published and get comments from relevant parties, apart from eschewing from any speculation.

They have to write based on facts and proper research.  Unlike social media users, journalists should abide by the journalism ethics and responsibility.

As for social media practitioners, they at times abuse the speed and effectiveness of the media by spreading fake news which can create havoc and destroy the social fabric of a harmonious multiethnic society like Malaysia.

If journalists and editors stick to these basic principles, there will be a place for “good journalism” in the Digital Age.

Therefore, in order to survive and stay relevant in the fast changing world, the Chief Minister suggested on Monday, that the media adapt and use new technologies, including a possibility of using artificial intelligence in the future.

Apart from that, he advised the media players not to write anything that is incorrect, fake, and untrue.

Arguing that if the media doesn’t change, it would be left behind, Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg therefore said, journalists would have to interface with technology, which is a big challenge.

Above all, in order to survive and become relevant in the digital world, it is pertinent for the newspaper to uphold its integrity and credibility by reporting objectively and professionally, without fear and favour.

Associate Professor Dr Jeniri Amir is a senior lecturer at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.

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