The decline of newspapers in the UK, explained

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Since the early 2000s, print newspaper sales in the United Kingdom have been declining. Why? It seems to be mainly down to the ‘world wide web’, more fondly known as the internet. The millennial generation have grown up to be a lot more tech savvy than their parents, due to the huge amounts of technology that have been made available. So this, in turn, means that people actively seek out freebies — even free ways to access news. So print publications are struggling.

But why does it matter so much that print is struggling?

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The first newspaper, Corante, was published in 1621, with the first daily newspaper starting in 1702, the similarly titled The Daily Courant. So print has been a pretty big deal in the UK for around 400 years. It is where journalism started, paving the way for future journalists to have a sustainable career. Or so we thought.

With the introduction of radio in the early 20th century, television becoming accessible to the public in 1936, during World War 2 and the internet being made available in people’s homes in the 90s, the platform of journalism is ever changing. News is accessible across all these platforms, all more instant than print journalism.

However, it is a traditional, and for a long time, the only method of receiving news. It is the starting point for many successful modern journalists and a medium that Wesley Johnson, a senior member at Press Association at calls, “more thought-provoking … much more thought through, with more analysis and investigation.”

Isn’t it just a dying media though?

Not necessarily. At the time of writing, apparently 7 UK national newspapers are losing more than 10% of sales, year on year. However, there have often been positive spikes for print news. Brexit, for example, saw a huge increase in print sales. So people do still turn to newspapers at times of uncertainty/crisis/panic, almost like a trustworthy friend or a shoulder to cry on. It can sometimes be refreshing to pick up a paper in the morning, to take a break from constantly refreshing your Twitter feed.

Why is online such a threat?

Because it’s instant. Because it’s free. Because it’s easy. Because you can get it from the comfort of your own home. Henry Austin, assistant news editor at The Independent online and former freelancer at its print edition pointed out that: “where do most people get their news nowadays? Online. I also think it’s a lot better for breaking stories. You can just keep posting and updating posts and keep people informed.”

With print sales in such a decline, and as we enter the ‘clickbait’ era, it is hard to keep and it’s hard to continue to make money. If your newspaper sales are rapidly dropping and you’re not willing to set up a paywall on your site, you can find yourself in pretty dangerous waters — financially.

Is there still a place in the news world for print?

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Ultimately, yes. But the way newspapers are sold would probably need to change for this to remain so. Newspapers currently report on ‘breaking news’, but that edition won’t come out until the day after — which is why they are so reliant on their online reach.

Andrew Jaspan, co-founder of The Conversation and former editor at The Observer, The Scotsman and The Sunday Herald thinks that, “print will largely go, except maybe as expensive luxury products, such as a £5 Sunday paper for those who like to read print and have a break from a screen/phone.”

This seems to be a popular opinion among journalists that the model will need to change to stay relevant. Also, with printing being so expensive, it would also be cost-effective, allowing publishers to reinvest their money elsewhere if needs be. But it is probable that print will always remain a part of our culture, in some way.

But how can free online content make more money than a newspaper you pay for?

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No one’s really sure at this point. In 2013, The Telegraph became the first paper to put a paywall up on their website. This basically means that if you want to read more than 20 articles a month, you have to pay a fee. This idea was adopted by a variety of other outlets, like The Sun and The Financial Times.

However, The Telegraph proceeded to loosen this at the end of 2016, making the majority of their content free whilst using Telegraph Premium “to place a value on some of our most unique, in-depth and insightful journalism, offering compelling analysis from the most authoritative writers”, according to The Daily Telegraph’s editor, Chris Evans. It makes it possible for them to get clicks on stories they share on social media, but then keeps the more ‘exclusive’ pieces for readers who pay their subscription fee. This seems to be the only way, aside from advertising and clickbait, that you can make a reasonable profit from online journalism.

The blogging phenomenon has seen bloggers being enabled to take part in sponsored work from big brands to earn a living, but it seems very uncertain at this time how it will be sustainable without asking for a subscription fee.

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In this tumultuous time for journalism, it is difficult to predict what is going to happen next. It’s only a matter of time before publications have to make the decision to stick with tradition or starting to look for alternate methods.

There will always be a place for a print, but it’s difficult to say if the industry will stay how it is now. The Independent’s closure last year, which was a truly historic event, led to a huge increase in their online visitors — a 50% increase in the months that followed the last print edition being published. This is either an example of the positive change that needs to happen, or the ultimate demise of our beloved Fleet Street.

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