By Julie Williams
As Scotland grapples with a new way of life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is impossible not to see the impact on print media consumption.
“It’s the bleakest of ironies – the biggest news story in a lifetime is killing off the very industry that exists to report it. Coronavirus is destroying newsprint newspapers across Britain, delivering the coup de grâce to businesses that were already in the process of dying.”
These words by Roy Greenslade, journalist for the Guardian, sum up this transformational moment for the British newspaper industry.
Let’s take Britain’s biggest newspaper as an example. The Metro’s business model relies on thousands of commuters picking up a copy of their paper to and from work, but that demand vanished virtually overnight.
We have also seen local and regional newspaper publishers finding it economically unsustainable to continue to produce papers. The publication of scores of titles has been suspended and hundreds of journalists have been put on furlough, with others asked to take pay cuts.
Although formal announcements by publishers stress that their COVID-19 measures to stop the publication of papers will be temporary, it’s likely some will become permanent.
At a national level, print runs have been drastically reduced as there aren’t as many big stores to sell them, edition sizes have been cut back due to the drop-off in advertisers and we’re seeing magazines move to digital-only publication.
Throughout the past 20 years, papers have defied forecasters who predicted that advertising income was on the verge of disappearing. It has lasted well but has come at a cost, with severe cuts to editorial budgets, which inevitably impact the quality of the journalism we consume.
With the restrictions on non-essential socialising only just easing in the past week (at least in Scotland), entertainment and leisure companies are unlikely to return to advertising in print media for some time yet.
Although all publications have been hit, those that are most resilient, and least vulnerable, are those that are part of the big publishing groups and have a strong digital presence. The Guardian and The Times are great examples of print titles that have switched their business models to generate income directly from readers rather than through advertising.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for newspapers. We have seen a huge hunger for online news. For the first month or so of lockdown, every major publisher reported record numbers of website visits. Page views each day had been off the chart. Dwell time, which shows reader engagement with individual articles, increased too. There have also been reports of a rise in subscriptions.
It’s proof that the world needs good journalism and verified information to combat the spread of fake news across social media.
So how can we help? The importance of subscriptions and supporting both national and local papers in any way you can is so incredibly important. It could make the difference to the entire structure of an industry we, in PR, would be lost without.
Julie is Senior Account Director, Client Experience at Weber Shandwick Scotland. She is responsible for developing and supporting integrated client communications programmes across a range of sectors. Julie is currently on leave, but you can contact PBrankin@webershandwick.com if you would like to discuss this article.