Home » General » Newspapers’ Lost Opportunities

Some sections of society attribute decline in newspaper readership to perceived drops in journalistic standards.

Others feel the recent introduction of several competing daily and weekly newspapers has crammed an already undersized consumer market.

Another school of thought is that Zimbabweans are simply fed up with local news, especially because two newspapers can give conflicting accounts on one event.

The foregoing may be partly true, but what is irrefutable is that most Zimbabweans that no longer buy copies off street corners are now accessing the news free on the internet.

Zimbabwean newspapers, much like others elsewhere have websites that provide free digital content similar to news on sell on street corners.

So why do newspapers find it necessary to have two platforms with identical content, one charging a dollar and the other available for free?

Is it out of fear of being labelled ‘ancient’ in the face of technological evolution, or a way to retain relevance as wireless technology gains popularity?

Or is it about being “heard” by the multitudes of Zimbabweans now living outside the country?

Whatever the case, for the average reader, it makes economic sense to read “internet news” rather than part with a dollar to know what is happening around him.

In fact, with just a dollar, a reader may access all daily newspapers and more in an internet cafeacute.

Because of this, newspapers have to rethink their strategies with regard to digital content.

Newspapers are in business to be viable, and if a high percentage of their readers access news for free, then there is certainly a problem.

Foreign newspapers such as The Sun in the United Kingdom, The New York Times and South Africa’s The Times have found a way around the problem by offering subscription-based, exclusive content represented on their site only by teasers or headlines.

Zimbabwe’s newspapers may, at the very least, “hide” some of their exclusive content such as one-on-one interviews with the President, or details of a breaking news story and reserve access to paying customers.

Newspapers have to start to find way to make money online as more and more readers are choosing the internet as their preferred news source.

Online aertising has not really taken off primarily because of aertisers’ reluctance to commit a fortune on an unproven communication medium.

The onus is on the newspapers to prove to aertisers that there is a big audience waiting to view and listen to information.

Zimbabwean newspapers are yet to fully explore the potential of their websites.

Video technology is ready available on all news sites but to date, few local newspapers have posted a video clip from parliament, or a sports stadium, or anywhere in Zimbabwe.

Video clips have the ability to authenticate text, and because they are closer to the truth than printed words, they can draw a larger audience.

The Herald’s Facebook page draws thousands to every post commenting on an on-going soccer match.

The number of “followers” is sure to sky rocket if, at the end of the match, the newspaper provides a video clip showing goals or highlights from the match.

Offering aertisers space before or after the clip, or in-between during breaks would bring in some revenue to help cover for all the free reading.

Video and sound technology distinguishes digital news from information presented on newsprint.

Presenting on-line news as just text and photographs defeats the purpose.

Zimbabwean newspapers are wasting the opportunity to relate more to their readers by failing to make full use of the wide range of media available on the internet.

In other countries, readers are fast becoming sources of information as they are encouraged to send in their voice recordings, videos and text related to topical news.

Readers are no longer passive consumers of news — digital media is transferring some, if not most of the power previously held by news organizations to the mass audience.

Media houses cannot declare ownership of news anymore — claiming to have been the first to “break” the piece of information to the public is the furthest they can go.

After the news is broken, anyone can post it on Facebook, share digitally with friends or even rewrite for foreign organisations.

Because news is no longer as exclusive or as valuable as it was in years past, fresh methods should be sought in packaging it for the wider audience.

If done well newspapers may keep in touch with technological evolution and retain relevance as wireless technology gains more popularity.

They may also connect with the multitudes of Zimbabweans now living outside the country and satisfy the local market as well.

Most importantly for newspapers, presenting partial subscription-based content and developing a suitable platform for digital aertising would more than compensate for the loss of readership of the traditional newspaper.

Source : The Herald