Expert Comment: Liverpool Post to closeThursday 12 December 2013
As The Liverpool Post announces its closure after more than 150 years of publication Dr Anthony Cawley, Lecturer in Media at Liverpool Hope, looks at the current state of the industry.
Chronicle often seems the most appropriate title for a newspaper. Captured in the pages of a good newspaper is the rhythm of its country’s or city’s life: births, marriages, deaths, great deeds, misdeeds, triumphs, failures, joys, tragedies. A good newspaper highlights what is important in society now, and, through archives, offers a legacy insight to what was considered to be important then. A good newspaper is a physical and cultural presence in its home region, a marker and shaper of local identity. And when one slips out of publication the social environment can seem diminished.
When The Liverpool Post appears for the final time next week, having been a cherished feature of the cityscape for 158 years, it will seal its place in an on-going and troubling story. Newspapers as an industry and a media form are, in most Western countries, under an intensity of pressure never experienced before. Circulation and advertising, the two revenue pillars that have been sustaining them since the 1600s, are toppling, as audiences and advertisers migrate online. But print news production itself remains costly and labour-intensive.
Squeezed between relatively stable costs but fast eroding revenues, newspaper publishers have been scrambling around for strategies to remain viable: trimming headcounts in newsrooms, streamlining back-office processes, merging titles, relaunching dailies as weeklies, selling on titles, closing titles. But few, if any, newspaper publishers see a future as print-only concerns. Some, including the Guardian Media Group, are positioning themselves as ‘digital first’. The problem is that, with some exceptions in specialist financial news, digital revenues from paywalls, online advertising and metered-access remain too low to compensate for the year-on-year deterioration of print revenues. Many new and exciting media industry and professional opportunities are opening up online, including in cross-platform journalism, but print-news has been experiencing a turbulent commercial journey to the digital era.
The public good justifications for preserving newspapers remain compelling. They stimulate critical democratic debate, shed light on darker practices in society, question the powerful, and aid social cohesion. But these are not economic justifications. The future of national and local titles in print would seem to depend on finding what has so far proven elusive: a market solution. Perhaps a sustainable future for the print form of journalism may be found in placing a higher value on its public good merits.