24 Mar 2016

Digital journalism is the future – good news for Tech PR

Digital journalism: the way forward?

Last month, it was announced that the Independent is to end its print edition. From Saturday 26 March, readers will have to go online if they want to read the publication.

The paper’s current editor, Amol Rajan, who joined in 2013, said he knew from the start the he would be the last editor of the paper’s print edition. According to Mr Rajan, “The simple fact is, there just aren’t enough people who are prepared to pay for printed news, especially during the week.”

On the whole, the Independent is casting this move as a positive one. Its own headline reads: “The Independent becomes the first national newspaper to embrace a global, digital only future.” But of course – they would say that.

The future of journalism has been under the microscope for some time. With this recent news regarding the Independent, it seems like a good time to consider how the media is likely to develop over the coming years, and what it means for tech PR.

The debate 

Rumours have abounded for a while now that print media is dead/dying. While it may not be in such dire straits yet, there’s no denying the numbers: UK newspaper circulation figures have been on the decline for the last decade.

While the digital pioneers are adamant that print has had its day, media purists insist that there’s still fight left in the old dailies.

According to the Nielsen Scarborough’s  Newspaper Penetration Report, 56% of people who read a newspaper do so exclusively in print format. Even those who read online news throughout the week are often still buying print newspapers at the weekend: around eight out ten adults who read a newspaper still do so in print, at least some of the time.

Influential print industry publication, Print Week, argues that the Independent’s move to online-only does not reflect the state of the wider print sector. They reckon that worldwide print advertising in newspapers is still worth a massive £53.6bn, too.

Whichever side you’re on, it’s clear that the future of journalism is going to be much more digital than before.

What does ‘digital journalism’ actually mean?

To be upfront about it: we’re big fans of digital journalism. It goes so much further than just uploading the same stories to a paper’s website.

Digital journalism affords so many opportunities that are simply impossible with printed media. For one, online publication can broadcast news so much faster. ‘Live feeds’ are used by many of the larger news organisations to keep readers up-to-date on large news events with many developments, such as an election or natural disaster.

Not only can breaking news stories be updated instantly with new developments, but journalists are also live-tweeting news events as they happen.

In fact, it’s not just journalists. The rise of social media in journalism means that absolutely anyone has the opportunity to create the news. In the UK, we’re lucky enough that freedom of speech is encouraged, and our media isn’t censored by the government. Using social media for journalism plays into this availability and openness of the media for everyone.

How does this affect Tech PR? 

When considering the impact that digital journalism will have on tech PR, it’s worth considering why technology has infiltrated more and more areas of our lives.

Over recent years, technology has changed the way we work, the way we study, the way we entertain ourselves, and the way we look after our health. Technology allows us to achieve more – more quickly, and more easily. It has legs because it makes our lives better (whether you like to admit it, or not).

In this sense, digital journalism can only be a good thing for tech PR. When you’re trying to communicate about digital innovation and cutting-edge technology, it makes sense that the method of communication should be up-to-date and digital, too.

Sure, a newspaper article about a tech development is all very well and good. But digital journalism can afford some even better opportunities.

Video is the best way to share stories with a visual element, and platforms like Periscope and Vine, and even good old YouTube, make video sharing incredibly simple. Journalists are currently pioneering techniques for broadcasting news using virtual reality. When it comes to writers publishing content on tech innovations, many of those are bloggers, or online magazines like TechCrunch, Mashable,  and Tech Insider.

The opportunities afforded by digital journalism fit in perfectly with what tech PR is trying to achieve.

The downsides 

While digital journalism has many advantages, especially when it comes to tech PR, there are still some potential negatives that can’t be ignored.

There’s still a large section of society that doesn’t have access to the internet – particularly the elderly, and those on low incomes. That means if journalism became exclusively digital, these people would be unable to access it. Not only that, they might also feel less able to contribute and engage with the media – which is, after all, the best feature of both the free press and the whole point of digital journalism.

Likewise, there is also the human cost to the digitisation of journalism. The end of the Independent in print causes seventy-five redundancies among its journalists.

It’s definitely a good thing that digital journalism allows everyone to say their piece. But consequently, that does limit the number of traditionally-qualified reporters who are needed. Likewise, when your readers aren’t paying for their content anymore, that can make cashflow a bit tight.

The verdict

It’s always going to be a slightly difficult one. Redundancies are never a good thing, and it’s a shame to see one of the UK’s most reputable newspapers ending in its print format. What are we going to use to wrap our fish and chips?!

Likewise, media organisations would do well to proceed with caution to avoid alienating and excluding those who currently only read the news in a print format.

That said, it’s cheering to see the Independent do something bold to adapt to changing circumstances. Better that than cling on till the bitter end, at which point it’s often too late to recover. Plus, as technology becomes cheaper and more mainstream still, the number of people able to get online will only increase.

It’s still early days for digital journalism, and it’s not entirely clear what is going to happen. Perhaps more papers will follow the Independent and go entirely digital, or maybe even find an entirely different solution to dwindling print circulations. Either way, it’s an exciting time for journalism, and an interesting time for tech PR. We look forward to seeing what will happen.

Digital journalism