Daniel Schlagwein

The Internet is the biggest disruptive innovation impacting on the news genre since the invention of the printing press.

New research has found significant changes in the content of newspapers, and the roles of those people involved with newspapers, as the genre emerges into the digital age.

Our new paper shows how over the last two decades, the cultural and cognitive artifacts that information and communication technologies circulate have become entangled with human and technical actors to the point of inseparability.

Many people in media companies have followed a culture that emerged from the print business – clearly not only had the time come for a change, but that time was well overdue. Most significant in the emergence of the digital newspaper genre is the transition from what we describe as ‘interaction’ to ‘intra-action’. In effect, readers want to engage with their newspapers, taking advantage of what online, mobile and social media technologies can do, and have their say. The newspaper of today is now evolving into a 24 hour a day dynamic online sounding board. Newspapers used to be produced in a linear fashion, with a journalist slaving away for weeks on a story, and then getting one response on the letters page. Now, people want their soapbox too – and new technology means they can co-create a news ‘artefact’.

The paper shows how newspaper as a genre have been transformed in the print to digital transition. The digital medium affords readers new abilities, yet also brings about a struggle for new technology-based business models for media companies. Quite simply, advertisers can now see what they are getting for their money. The number of print readers is going down – hence they pay less for print ads.

Equally, online, advertisers can see their click through rates – and if it is poor, then advertisers won’t pay so much. A large block ad costing thousands is rapidly turning into cents-per-click online. In addition, pay walls for content are not widely accepted by readers who are used to getting their content online for free. It is clear online is replacing print in terms of news consumption but not in terms of financial income. Media companies are struggling to find innovative business models. Currently, there is less money to pay for professional journalism – so newspapers are letting the readers do it, with ‘User Generated Content’ – or, the comment box at the end of each article.

Google and social media are increasingly being used to search and find news. Hence, online newspapers are competing with content any teenage programmer can put up a website – and with a bit of Search Engine Optimisation they can rate nearly as high on Google as a traditional newspaper. You no longer need a huge budget to start a publishing house: All you need are enough readers to add enough comments, feeding back to your news website, your blog, or your Twitter account. Old newspaper companies need to see if they can develop new technologies and business models for both the production and consumption of news, or they will pass away.

Daniel Schlagwein is a lecturer at the Australian School of Business. 

He has co-authored the paper “Understanding the Digital Newspaper Genre: Medium vs. Message” with Anastasia Utesheva, and Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanov.