Home » General » The Changing Role of Our Newspapers

In the 1980s, before the internet took over just about all of our lives, newspapers were proud to display the “exclusive” tag, each time they knew or presumed no other news organisation covered a specific story or interviewed a specific person. Radio news citations worked as pure aertising for the exclusive story, and this interplay continued until the story perhaps was picked up by the evening news on television.

This situation was dramatically changed with the introduction of the internet, particularly now that everyone has the ability to attract mass audience to whatever information he or she may choose to disseminate.

Last week, soon after the former Vice-President Dr Joice Mujuru had been served with papers aising that she had been relieved of her duties in Government, a pirate Zimbabwean radio station operating from foreign lands was the only media organisation to speak to her.

Though the radio station, Voice of America’s website published the story and presented an audio recording of the interview, scores of other newspapers reporting on Zimbabwean news picked up the story and reported it as if they themselves had sourced the primary data.

Thousands of Zimbabweans also went on social networking sites to share the story and give their own opinion on the matter.

The exclusive piece of news no longer exists.

The question that newspaper makers have to find an answer to is: What are the qualities and characteristics of newspapers that will have to be developed and emphasised in order to maintain the g position of the product in the everyday lives of readers?

Newspaper organisations have lost the mandate to be the sole providers of primary information.

Consumers are no longer anxiously waiting to see what the newspaper says about yesterday’s events.

Instead, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are ensuring that, as long as there was someone with access to internet where any event took place, people are going to hear and talk about it before the newspaper publishes it.

In fact, sports editors and enthusiasts are finding out that it is becoming a waste of time to publish, in a Friday edition of a newspaper, results or match reports of Uefa Champions league matches played on a Wednesday night.

When everyone who loves football has access to either the internet or DStv satellite television, no one is going to wait for more than 24 hours to learn of the Manchester City versus Bayern Munich result.

It may be argued that Champions League football results or match reports appearing in our newspapers 36 hours after the matches were played are nothing more that “space fillers” because it is hard to imagine that any reader would find something new and interesting in them.

They are not news because readers know platforms where the same information is conveniently available earlier.

Newspaper readership figures are dropping, not just because readers are finding it easier and cheaper to access online content, but because, when compared to the internet, a newspaper simply does not offer the same convenience.

DeMbare DotComs, a Facebook profile that follows and reports on the exploits of the country’s biggest football club, Dynamos FC, commands a huge following of soccer enthusiasts.

Part of the reason why it is popular is the immediacy in its news presentation.

Much like European and American sports websites, DeMbare DotComs may give minute-by-minute updates of a match involving its favourite team while also updating its followers on other results across the country.

All a traditional newspaper can do is publish the results of the match – on the next day.

Newspapers can no longer claim to own any news because the average citizen is now gathering, analysing and sharing information – roles that only newspapers played in the 1980s.

What do newspapers have that the average citizen possesses?

Expert personnel!

The average “citizen journalist” cannot compete with experienced, professional people that are employed by newspapers.

No one can put together a better soccer match analysis than Robson Sharuko, or a review of parliamentary affairs than Lloyd Gumbo, or statistics of any sort than Lawrence Moyo.

The credibility of news produced by newspapers is their distinct aantage over others.

Even if the newspaper content gets to be shared by others, readers will always rush to the primary source (newspapers) to check on what other credible and timely information they possess.

Newspapers have to also transform themselves into “analysers”.

Analysers are organisations that operate in two types of product-market domains, one relatively stable, the other changing.

In their stable areas, these organisations operate routinely and efficiently through use of formalised structures and processes.

In their more turbulent areas, top managers watch their competitors closely for new ideas, and then they rapidly adopt those ideas that appear to be most promising.

The internet has to be an area of inspiration if newspapers are to remain relevant and competitive.

Source : The Herald