PRINT TRUTH: ‘Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.’


Fail to understand the changing landscape and very soon you won’t have a job.

It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now and It’s true whether you are a journalist, comms person or a fifth generation pit prop maker in 1983.

A bright person a few weeks ago told me that there would always be newspapers because they’d always be there.

I disagree.

People thought that about coal mines once too.

There’ll always be news but there’ll always be print newspapers? Really?

As the rise of Twitter as a breaking news medium and sites like BBC that’s just not the case.

Here’s an interesting few quotes from John Paton, CEO of Digital First Ventures who own, as their website says, more than 800 print and digital products that reach 57 million customers a month.

If you aren’t taking it from me take it from a news organisation that has a $1.3 billion turnover.

They are quotes that comms people need to know about because they represent more evidence of the seismic change in the media landscape.

But why switch to Digital First as a company name?

“Digital First is my name. I’ve been saying it long before I got here. The name originally was to say very loudly — in a headline kind of way — that what we thought we did in newspapers, we had to change 308550289_b8a4be2d44_odramatically. And that, of course, meant digital first.

“And actually “digital first, print last.” I wanted to hammer home that this idea about the Web as something else we do was ridiculous.”

“The Web was and it should be what we do. Print is something else that we do, which happens — at this moment in time — to have almost all the revenue. But that’s not going to be our future. It was something that I named to try to hammer home that message. It’s kind of funny — I don’t think they have a “digital first” strategy at Google. They have a strategy. The name, hopefully, if we’re successful, becomes very dated.”

On paywalls and digital dimes…

“I don’t think paywalls are the answer to anything. If we’re swapping out print dollars for digital dimes, I think paywalls are a stack of pennies. We might use the pennies in transition to get where we’re going.”

On newspapers going away…

“Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.

3588867138_ec00e587e3_o“I don’t think that news organizations are dying but are newspapers going to stop running in print? Yeah. Absolutely.”

On making the shift…

“I think we still are too afraid to take the kinds of risks we need to take because there’s so much money tied up in print. We have $1.3 billion in revenue. And of $1.3 billion, $900 million is advertising and $165 million of the advertising is digital advertising. Four years ago, that was almost nothing. That $165 [million] is going to have to more than double in three years. To do that, we’re going to have to take some risks on the print side. That’s the one thing that scares the [expletive] out of everybody.

“I love newspapers. I’m a newspaperman. My father was a printer. I started off as a copyboy. I love newspapers. But they don’t love me anymore.”

You can read the whole interview here.

That’s something worth reflecting on.

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Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Dan, I think you’re right and wrong. Is it possible newspapers will stop printing on paper at some point? Maybe, although there is an awful lot of work going on to try and stop that happening. I think if you look at papers like Metro, and the MEN’s two-days-week 70,000 free distribution, the 5,000-free-a-day in Swansea of the Western Mail two days a week and the Birmingham Mail’s new 50,000-free-on-a-Friday approach, there’s a strong case to say that people will continue consuming news on paper, packaged for them, if it’s served to them at the right place, and feels like value to them.

    But if you use the word newspaper to describe what a newspaper does – ie choose content it thinks will interest its readers and packages up that content for them – then I think it’s very hard to argue newspapers will die. Serving up content as an e-edition, or an app, or in any emerging format which appeals to readers, makes the role of the ‘newspaper newsroom’ (you could equally apply this point to broadcast newsrooms, although I think the written word will out here) as relevant now as it ever was.

    People go to websites for certain pieces of content, and the challenge on those sites is to keep people on there for a few more clicks. Does that mean they aren’t interested in content which is packaged for them, and which they enjoy reading? I don’t think it does.

    The challenge is to make sure that packaging is right, so I think it’s wrong to say newspapers are dying, or to liken them to the pits. The challenge is to make sure the content is relevant, regardless of whether it’s printed or not. I guess it’s whether you’re talking about a physical newspaper or Unlike the pits, there’s no one driving force out there trying to close them down.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment, David.

      Two disclaimers. Firstly, I love newspapers and started my career on the second last hot metal newspaper in the country, the Uttoxeter Advertiser, where I carried formes of type from the typesetters down to the flat bed press as well as write picture captions and develop film. It was an education where I learned valuable lessons.

      Second, I’ve retained my membership of the National Union of Journalists despite leaving journalism eight years ago.

      I’ve watched with real sadness as newsrooms have shrunk in size. When I started as a press officer there were 21 people involved in the newsgathering process on my patch and five newspapers. All of them were based in the town. Now there’s maybe eight people and no newspapers with offices in the town.

      A while back I was having a conversation about the future of news with a local government geek whose views on many things I respect. “The thing is,” he said, “there’s really nothing as boring to me as the future of news debate because people are already busy voting with their feet.”

      Why I’m fascinated with what John Paton had to say is not because it’s from the mouth of a geek slightly lazily dissing the ‘dead tree press’ but because it’s from a major media player with a $1.3 billion turnover who is very clear on heralding the end of print newspapers.

      I think you’re right in saying that newspapers must re-package something for an audience using digital channels, whether that’s Business Desk’s morning e-mail with a handful of links to key business stories that’s taking on the Birmingham Post, or it’s the Guardian ipad app.

      But there are so many newspapers out there that look as though they just don’t have the skills, leadership, funding or appetite to truly adapt to the changing landscape.

      I’d love to see how the shift from print to mobile first takes shape and I wish you – genuinely – all the luck in the world with the task ahead. I mean that with absolute sincerity. But I’m just very glad that I don’t have the task of working out the switch, how to bring people with you and how to make it pay because I can’t begin to speculate how that’s going to work.

      One of the first questions I had at my interview for my NCTJ course at Darlington College in 1994 was what impact did I think the internet would have on newspapers. With a moment of inspiration that still amazes me I said that it probably wouldn’t have a major impact until people could read the internet on the bus. Or the toilet. That moment has long since passed and it’s grieves me no end that the very generous historic profits of newspapers hasn’t been used to crack this $64,000 question.

      PS – Your blog is ace, by the way, David. It’s one of the things that makes me think that there’s a future for journalism in 2013.

  2. Hi Guys
    I think you both have great points and Dan I agree that things have to change.
    Just to clarify I started off as a web designer and ended up responsible for all the digital offerings until 2006, this was no small concern as we had five newspapers, 3 magazines and nine radio stations.
    I spent my time trying to tell the board of the newspaper group I worked for that if we didn’t change and become a true media company we would fail, they aren’t there yet but it was touch and go for a while.

    The problem they faced, and still do, is getting to grips with the fact you have to supply content in a manner which suits the end user, not what you think works. The top media providers, The BBC, Guardian and Times spring to mind, do this really well and have lead the industry for a few years now. The main news groups have seen this and reacted, the local ones haven’t and are trying to catch up but I can see for some it’s just too late.

    One of the sad things is the speed of change is too slow and most readers will not remain loyal.

    Pay walls are a real bug bare for me and have been since 2002/03 when we first heard the term. People will not pay for news they can get free elsewhere and that’s a fact…period…so don’t do it and move on! Rant over 😉

    One of the main problems publishers have always faced was ‘how to replace the older generation as they declined?’ The younger generation are used to getting their news at high speed on mobile devices, 2012 saw 65% of people connect to the internet through a mobile device, the highest ever, and it will continue to grow.

    So what can publishers do? It’s really easy, stop holding on to the past and ‘grab’ the future by the lapels. Jump in and make sure that ‘your’ news is out there on whatever platform is available and informs readers instantly, especially the local providers. Google is making this really easy now but is it being used…I don’t think so! I remember the days when editors told us “we can’t have the news on the web before it goes in the paper” WTF!

    I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time but I think some fundamentals are being missed by news providers and its time for some of them to wake up and smell the newsprint.

    To answer your question, do I think that newspapers will disappear…yes the younger generation don’t need them and certainly don’t buy them in enough numbers to make them sustainable. Let me ask you a question “In this current climate would you spend millions setting up a print service to print newspapers when you could spend a few thousand on a laptop and website or blog?” no me neither!

    If you want to read a little more from me on this you can!

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