“Can Journalism Survive the Death of Newspapers?” – Roy Greenslade lecture at the University of Edinburgh

Photo Credit: Sinn Féin

Photo Above: Roy Greenslade © Sinn Féin on Flickr

By Charlotte Hulme and Aisling Press

Roy Greenslade, former Editor of The Mirror, delivered a lecture at the University of Edinburgh last night, during which he predicted the end of print media.

Greenslade, whose career reads like a directory of British news media, has written for The Guardian, The Sun, The Mirror and The Express, lamented at the decline in printed news media, saying: “Its loss would be a disaster.”

Greenslade outlined that a decline of newspapers is paralleled by a decline in the number of journalists, which leads to an increase in the dissemination of fake news.

He said: “More and more journalists are just re-purposing what PR gives them. This, in turn, is leading to five or six stories being put online because it’s quicker online. However, this also means that content can seriously lack accuracy because of the rapidity of the research.”

Greenslade posed just one question to those assembled – ‘Can Journalism Survive the Death of Newspapers?’ He pondered what thefuture of journalism would look like in the digital era.

As he approaches 50 years in the newspaper industry, Greenslade speculated on the future of news media in the face of a “digital revolution”.

The predominant newspaper writer confessed that the future of printed media was bleak, saying: “The end of the newspaper is indisputable.”

He said: “Newspapers are indeed in their death throws and the end of newspapers is indisputable. In fact, newspapers is somewhat of a dirty word nowadays.”

He outlined a profound change in how people consume news. This was demonstrated within the lecture hall, as no more than a handful of audience members raised their hands to indicate that they had bought a newspaper that day.

Greenslade cautioned that the shift towards online media has lead to the erosion of full-time staff journalists. This precipitates low quality, mass-produced media which Greenslade dubbed “churnalism”.

According to Greenslade, the transition from print to online news “threatens our existence in a way that radio and television did not.”

Yet Greenslade describes himself as a digital revolutionary and an enthusiastic supporter of the changing times concerning print and online journalism, saying he “greeted the net’s arrival”.

The figures speak for themselves, which according to Greenslade show “the stark reality of digital disruption”.

Across the UK, London based newspapers have seen a decline of 54% in the last 17 years. With the dawn of the new millennium, major UK titles saw their circulation drop from over 12 million to 5 million.

In Scotland, the decline of print media is happening at an accelerated rate. In 2000, sales peaked at around 1 million printed copies. By September this year, that figure had fallen to 277, 000.

Greenslade did offer a glimmer of hope for printed news media: “Free titles may outlive their paid-for rivals as long as they can attract advertising.”

However, the fate of printed media would remain unchanged: “Newsprint in its mass form is living on borrowed time.”

While newsprint may be in decline, the future looks bright for online media.

However, the financial implications of the decline of print media were set out, with news brands struggling to make online journalism pay. He said: “People are consuming news for free, but news is not free to produce. These mistakes in newspapers and inaccuracies are attributable to a lack of fact checker availability.”

Greenslade hinted that the transition of more and more newspapers to online is imminent, stating that more illustrious newspapers will be the only ones with a chance of survival.

“Your newspapers that serve the affluent may very well survive – that’s your Economist, Private Eye and so on.”

Asked by a student audience member where the hope lies for budding journalism students, Roy responded with: “It’s all down to chance.”

Potential solutions ranged from reader donations, like those used on The Guardian website, to paywalls, like that in place on The Times.

The topic of advertising was also discussed, which was at once a news brand’s saviour and executioner.

While local online news brands are peppered with advertisements, the classified adverts which helped subsidise the running costs of local print media have been usurped by websites such as Gumtree.

Greenslade spoke to an audience composed of members of the public, industry professionals and first year students as the culmination of two lecture series – Our Changing World and Enlightenment.

The Our Changing World series focuses on the global challenges that face modern society, while the Enlightenment lectures feature the University of Edinburgh’s role in the 18th century cultural Enlightenment movement.

Greenslade is no stranger to the university lecturing scene and is a professor of Journalism at City University.

Greenslade has been a longstanding critic of the way in which journalism is practised in modern Britain, writing about the accountability of news outlets in the digital era.

Finishing with a question and answer session, the editor of the Edinburgh Reporter, Phyllis Stephen, raised concerns about Greenslade’s address of hyper-local publications.

She said: “I’m surprised he didn’t address the Press Gazette Duopoly campaign. But I’m really not worried when it comes to my paper. We have local advertisers, and our website and print complement each other.

“We don’t rely on Google Ads because we have plenty of local advertisers too. We have a degree of content by PR companies too but, again, we’re not reliant on this,” continued Phyllis.

The Press Gazette’s Duopoly campaign warns that Google and Facebook’s dominance over the £10bn UK digital advertising market is squeezing news publishers out of business.