By Russ Lynch on 14/04/2022
Russ Lynch, Director at Powerscourt and former Economics Editor of The Daily Telegraph, shares his thoughts on the current media landscape and offers some advice for media relations professionals
When I first stepped inside a newsroom at the start of a new millennium, the good times were already ending.
In national newspapers print advertising spend peaked in 2000: disruptors like Rightmove would soon hollow out local newspapers, while Google and Facebook muscled in on the mainstream. Media groups starved of traditional advertising revenues had to look elsewhere.
Now newspapers are increasingly funded by readers via subscriptions rather than advertisers. The FT, an early adopter that first introduced a paywall 20 years ago, now boasts one million digital only subscribers, more than half of whom are outside the UK. The Pink Un’s writers barely care about being in the actual newspaper these days. The Telegraph is aiming for one million subs by the end of 2023, and the Times has set up a radio station to help drive subscriptions.
But what does this shift to subscriptions really mean? Firstly, seeing what the readers are actually reading gives editors power they’ve never had before. That sets some hard questions for a communications industry attempting to influence them.
For example, if few people are reading “plain-vanilla” results stories outside a few big corporate names, why bother writing them? As one City editor put it to me, journalists are not “information bureaucrats”: there’s a landgrab going on for digital eyeballs, both winning and keeping them. Phoning up expectantly about XYZ plc’s like-for-like sales is not a route to success.
In a subscription model, the pressure is on every single story to feed the subscribers’ world view. Digital is at the centre of thinking, and economics and corporate news is framed to order.
There are fewer spaces for stories too: the web is no longer infinite because newsrooms are working out that their readers’ appetite for reading online is. Now more than ever, knowing your outlets is critical, as is an ability to sharply frame clients’ stories to meet the demands of publications in a way that suits both. CEOs need to be aware of the news agenda and be more willing to comment on it. Barring major events for the biggest names, nobody has a right to coverage.
One thing we can be sure of: demographic inevitability suggests the newspaper as we know it will die out with its readers before long. By the mid-2030s – perhaps sooner – the only place you’ll be seeing newspapers is probably in a museum.
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