Not dead yet
Not dead yet

When you work at a newspaper it gets a bit irksome to hear people predicting the demise of old media at the hands of the internet and social media.

Take this week’s announcement that Fairfax was shedding 1900 jobs; can you hear the death knell of the newspaper?

How would you like it if someone came to your place of work and said there’d come a time when no one would want fries with that? Sorry, I’m sure you have a very respectable job; it’s just this constant talk of the death of newspapers gets me down.

The only thing that gives me any comfort is the knowledge we’ll be around longer than Facebook.
Don’t believe me? Read on . . .

Media oligarch Rupert Murdoch, owner of more than 100 newspapers from the Wall Street Journal to the Western Suburbs Weekly, gives print media a 10-year life expectancy.

He offered this dire prediction in April, during his testimony to the Leveson Inquiry; the public inquiry into the British press following the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

While I don’t presume to have a deeper insight into the industry than Mr Murdoch, I get the feeling the newspaper you’re holding right now will last longer than a decade.

For starters, we’re somewhat insulated from the bleeding edge of social upheaval by being in the most remote capital city on the planet.

We’ve only just got small bars, for eff’s sake, so I think WA’s “wait a while” reputation might work in our favour.

And the fact we have nearly two centuries of history with the community has got to count for something, right? RIGHT?

Society’s inexorable progression towards a digital future might indeed be unstoppable but only a fool would think social media behemoths such as Facebook were immune.

The irony is that many of these new media platforms, which have been credited as harbingers of doom for newspapers, will be first against the wall as society evolves.

When was the last time you visited your Myspace profile? Let me rephrase that question for readers born after 1990: Ever heard of Myspace?

Facebook — the most powerful social media entity with over 900 million active monthly users — might not have a sword to its back just yet but it is looking decidedly more fallible than it did a few months ago.

There’s the issue of how to monetise the platform when it’s delivered to the increasingly large proportion of users who access it via smartphones.

Wiping 20 per cent off its share price following one of the most spectacular IPO implosions in modern memory didn’t help, either.

When a company goes public, it means just that. A hitherto unthinkable level of transparency is required by law and, going forward, it’s difficult to see this suiting the unique management style of its brilliant-if-unpredictable founder, and controlling stakeholder, Mark Zuckerberg.

In this environment of increased scrutiny, the company has just announced the departure of its chief technology officer, Bret Taylor, who is planning his own tech start-up — this isn’t good news.

But all of these issues aren’t as much of a concern for the future of Facebook as the reality that the next generation of users might not actually exist.

Since the IPO, Facebook naysayers have come out of the woodwork and the consensus of opinion is that the social media monster is losing traction with iGen (what comes after Gen-Y).

Why? It could have something to do with the fact their parents have profiles or it might just be that being Tumblr famous is so much cooler than having 1500 Facebook friends — how needy.

All it would take is this trend to continue, a particularly ill-advised change to privacy settings, redesign of the interface or advertising on the service, and young users could desert Facebook in droves.

Or like Myspace, Facebook could be swallowed up by a bigger fish, milked for its greatest asset — the database of user information — and cast aside.

Ultimately, however, the question of old media v new media longevity is a moot point as both are equally influenced by the vagaries of societal paradigm shifts.

As our wants and needs vary over time, the fortunes of any number of businesses will rise and fall and only one thing can be accurately predicted: change is inevitable.

Follow The Wire editor Ben O'Shea on twitter

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