Threats to national newspapers are obvious and persistent and barely need listing. Print, which still brings in most of the money, continues to decline while simultaneously the US technology giants scoop up all the growth in the digital advertising market. It would be easy to get depressed after stirring in fake news, alternative facts and the self-destructive stance of the right-wing press turning its back on the next generation via uncritical cheer-leading for Brexit.
It would be easy to become depressed – but wrong.
Opportunities are opening up for newspapers both through their own actions, but also geo-political moves on many fronts against what is increasingly seen as monopolistic, and socially damaging behaviour by the billionaire Silicon Valley players.
Fake news online provides a heaven-sent opportunity for newspapers to stand above the internet deluge with properly curated information verified by professional journalists – as long as resources continue to be provided to create trustworthy journalism.
In the extreme case of Trump in the US, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are all reporting record numbers of subscriptions in a “flight to quality”.
A similar trend could gain momentum in the UK, albeit it in a more nuanced way in a very competitive market.
In a sign of the times, Digital Minister Matt Hancock felt almost apologetic for having to insist publicly that “objective reality exists”. It was incredibly important to hang on to such a principle in the “unregulated space” of the social media – and important too for the future of newspapers.
The tide also seems to be turning against the idea that the tech giants are merely platforms pumping out other people’s content with limited responsibility for it.
The concept that they too are publishers, with attendant responsibilities, is gaining force and could soon be enshrined in law.
Google protests that it comes in peace, wants the best possible partnerships with existing publishers while hiring ever-growing thousands of moderators to take down child abuse and other violent and offensive material from its YouTube subsidiary.
Facebook is changing its financial reporting rules to book sales in the country where they occurred rather than routing them through cities such as Dublin to minimise tax.
Pressure should also grow on the acquiescence of the tech giants to the ad-blocking software which limits the revenue potential of newspapers online.
Changing official attitudes to the likes of Google and Facebook, and the extra resulting costs they will have to take on-board, should help to even up the commercial battle in the marketplace.
Could it be that we are now seeing the high-water mark for both fake news and the unfettered power of the tech giants, to the benefit of national newspapers?
“Fake news online provides a heaven-sent opportunity for newspapers to stand above the internet deluge.”