Rupert Murdoch once posed that the profits from his newspaper outlets were “rivers of gold”. Several years later, however, he lamented that “sometimes, rivers dry up”. The Independent’s decision to cease print and move to digital marks the latest river to dry up, and brings to light the questionable longevity of other print publications. But, is this something we should get used to?
Cited as “the new chapter for independent journalism”, the owners of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday have announced plans to cease print publication of the paper and move their productions to entirely online. The spinoff ‘i’ paper will still continue to be printed, however. The decision has largely been mourned by readers and members of the press alike, with some hailing it as ‘the loss of a community’ and as a devastating blow to print publication. Many, however, have simply accepted the closure as a sign of the times.
Amal Rajan, The Independent’s editor, has promised readers that “your paper will look and feel the same” online. Still, there is a certain sadness that comes with the decision to stop printing. For many, buying and reading a newspaper is integral to a daily routine. There is a physicality to it, akin to reading a book, that consumers cherish and cannot replicate with online mediums.
For younger readers, however, printed press may as well be extinct. An Ofcom study found that in 2015 only 21% of 16-24 year olds consume their news through newspapers, with 59% obtaining their news from social media and other online outlets. With an increasing number of young readers obtaining their news via apps, social media and websites, there grows a list of sources that threaten the paper’s hegemony as the primary source of news. There is a demand for news to be instant and constantly updated- something that newspapers simply cannot keep up with.
Digitised media, also, heightens the sense of community that a paper produces. Online articles and features offer the reader a chance to comment, immediately, and debate with others about current events. Though newspapers present something similar, in the form of letters to the editor, it is overshadowed by the immediacy and breadth of opinions that comment sections offer. This rings true, particularly, when there is breaking news or the death of a well loved public figure, as there is a certain sense of closure achieved by communicating with others affected. Readers, according to Amal Rajan at least, “are showing us the future is digital”.
But, let’s not write off the appeal of printed press entirely. The thirst for buying papers has not dried up – yet. As The New Day, the new paper from Trinity Mirror launches, chief executive, Simon Fox believes that “newspapers can live in the digital”. The new print publication will be the first national newspaper to be issued in thirty years, and is accordingly set to “arrest the decline” in newspaper readership. Other than a small social media presence, The New Day will have no digital format to access and will rely purely on print distribution. Aimed at 35 to 55 year olds, the paper will be upbeat, politically neutral and there for those not ready to let go of newspapers.
If anything can be achieved by The Independent’s premature closure it is that it will urge people to buy newspapers either for the first time or more frequently. With an innovative new paper to look forward to and excite fans of print media, the future is looking brighter than once thought. Yet, as mediums such as music, books and newspapers make their inexorable decline to become more digitized, The Independent’s closure, sadly could probably just the first of many.