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Opportunities & Threats: National Press

Ray Snoddy's article in the Publishing Partners Guide 2017

Ray Snoddy

Posted on: 03 February 2017

The march of technology will inevitably present more temptations, more opportunities for newspapers, or newsbrands, to do more dramatic things, reach more people this year.

Smartphones will get smarter with more pixels to feed online video and robots will increasingly prove that they can “write” simple stories and produce routine tables and results to greater levels of accuracy than mere humans. For good or ill, there will be more computer-driven or programmatic advertising.

But the real innovations in 2017 may, and indeed should, come from the softer realms of social organisation and increased co-operation.

At least in local and regional newspapers, we have already seen the creation of farmed-out subbing hubs - hardly ideal but often economically necessary.

Trained journalists cost money and money is in short supply, so there is scope for higher and more frequent levels of co-operation between publications to work on the big stories that ultimately matter most. A recent perfect example – the work of European Investigative Collaborations into the tax manoeuvres of famous football managers and players involved journalists in twelve European countries, including in the UK, The Sunday Times.

In a new book on the future of print, Last Words: How to Save Journalism from the Decline of Print, Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, argues that it is also vital for newspaper owners to set aside their traditional rivalries.

In particular, they should co-operate commercially with fewer sales points for press advertising.

There should be consolidation as occurred in commercial television and radio years ago.

The biggest potential opportunity of all involves something of a step back to the future.

Some of the 55 contributors to Last Words argue that the game is up for print and the sooner general newspaper publishers bite the bullet and negotiate a path towards an online future - as The Independent has already done – the better.

That is not however the majority view. There is also the underlying understanding that it is the future of print that is the key to understanding how journalism in the public interest will continue to be financed in future.

After all, publications like the Financial Times may be able to replace lost print advertising by online earnings, but that at least for now does not seem a viable path for all.

Online is vital and an obvious final path to ultimate survival but whisper it gently, has a fixation with the new, the sexy and the shiny damaged the medium – print – that still produces the bulk of the revenues?

So, we must hope for a year of genuine innovation and opportunity that will concentrate on increased levels of co-operation including pursuit of the Holy Grail – a viable future for print.

“The biggest potential opportunity of all involves something of a step back to the future.”

About Ray Snoddy
(Details last updated: 29 January 2016)

Raymond Snoddy is a journalist, author and media commentator. He was the media editor at the Times for seven years and, before that, he spent 19 years at the FT. He has presented BBC’s NewsWatch, Channel 4’s Hard News and Sky News’ Media Monthly. Raymond has also written a number of books on the media.

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