Print Journalism Then and Now

The world of journalism began with the print media and stayed as such till the 20th century when radio and television saw the day.

Print journalism, in simple words, is practiced in newspapers and magazines. Another form of journalism is the broadcast media that provides news over television radio and the Internet. Although print and broadcast journalism both have several characteristics – for example, they both spread information to public and involve in investigation – they contrast in substantial techniques.

The news writing style of print journalism is found to be rigorous. As a rule, a lede (aka lead) starts a news story. The lede is the “opening sentence that concisely indicates the subject and action of the story and entices the audience to read the story” (Eugene, 2014). Furthermore, a nut grafe appears after the lede that tells readers the what, who, when, and why of the news story. Thereafter comes the crucial information of the news story: what it is all about. The crucial information is then followed the by non-crucial information, that included circumstantial information, where to find more material, or retorts to the story. Ultimately, the conclusion of an up-to-the-minute story looks ahead to the future of the story.

History of Print Journalism

It is believed that the Chinese had first conceived the art of printing during the epoch of the Tang Dynasty in 600 AD by making wooden chunks to print letters. The Buddhist scripture of 684 AD, exhibited now in Tokyo’s calligraphy museum, is considered as the oldest known existing printed work in a woodblock. Later, around the 3500 BC, Egyptians made paper and it came to Europe by the 11th century. In the year 1120, Spain became the first country to set up the first paper mill in Europe. By 1300, block printing became a reality in Europe. That is when German Johannes Gutenburg developed the printing technology around 1439 by inventing an oil-based ink for printing. In 1450, he pioneered the field of print media by printing a 1282-page Bible in the Latin language. At that time, he used movable blocks to print the book. According to the World Association of Newspapers, German Johann Carlous had published the first newspaper of the modern era in 1605 called Relation aller Furnemmen und gedenckwandigen Historien (TR. Account of all distinguished and commemorable news). Germany seemed to take the lead in print journalism since the country saw another newspaper in 1609 called File. However, Italy published its first modern-concept-newspaper called The Gazette during the same period. (Fernandes, 2013)

Print journalism in Mauritius dates back to the 18th century when Nicolas Lambert launched his weekly publication Annonces Affiches et Avis Divers on 13 January 1773, and that lasted till 1790. Subsequently, other print publications saw the day in the 18th century, namely the Journal des Iles de France et de Bourbon and Gazette de l’Isle de France. The 19th century saw the invasion of British over the French rule in Mauritius. The British colonial made a strict mark on the censorship of print journalism in the island. On 14 February 1832, Adrien d’Epinay launched his daily Le Cerneen – which lasted till 1852 – with the intent to fight against the post slavery compensation. Interestingly, Le Colonial and Le Mauricien were founded in 1833 but both lasted only till 1863. With the objective to broaden the scope of civil liberties, Remy Ollier’s La Sentinelle saw the day in 1843. During that era, the Indian indentured masses were facing a huge ordeal. To counteract the situation, Manilall Doctor launched The Hindusthani in 1909. Later, in 1922, Raoul Rivet started Le Mauricien, while Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam created Advance in 1940. Between the years 1948 to 1969, Mauritius saw the creation of various print media, including Zamana, Roger Merven’s Action, Raymond Nauvel’s Le Dimanche, L’Express, CAM’s Star, Week End, and Le Militant. (Richard, 2014)

Past, Present and Future

From the era of wooden chunk printing till today, print journalism has undergone drastic change. The advent of innovated technologies modernised the field in every way, including the introduction of machines to compose monotype and linotype letters rather than using the previous hand composing. Later this technique became obsolete since offset printing, laser printing and typesetting in computers took over. Today the buzzword in print media is desktop publishing. Furthermore, in the beginning, newspapers used to be published in only black and white since colour printing was not achievable at that time. Nevertheless, modern age saw the realisation of print colour pages, thus making the newspapers look brighter and more appealing. (Daly, 1997)

The size of pages is one of the determining factors in print journalism. According to Freek Vermeulen, associate professor at London Business School, newspapers in London were printed in broadsheet in the year 1712 because the British government had implemented taxation on newspapers based on the number of pages that were printing. (Vermeulen, 2013) The companies therefore decided to print their newspapers in the largest papers possible to decrease number of pages. Likewise, the Government’s tax law was abolished in the year 1855 but print media companies continued printing their newspapers in large sheets of paper. Regrettably, that’s one of the management myths, and an inefficient industry habit, in the field of print journalism that nevertheless continued to persist till quite recently.

Basically, newspapers are categorised into three sizes: broadsheets, tabloids and Berliners or Midis. In Mauritius, L’Express is broadsheet and Le Defi Quotidien is tabloid; Berliner is slightly bigger than tabloid – we currently do not have this size of newspaper in Mauritius.

After the dawn of letterpress almost six centuries ago, print media has been the only figure of mass communication. As the cable and satellite networks got reinforced around the globe, electronic media started invading the print media. Today, electronic media has become the ultimate mass communication channel. Various factors have led to the downfall of print journalism – one needs to be literate to read newspapers, while even an illiterate can watch news bulletin and understand the content; in print media, news are published at a particular time under a deadline, while news can be updated anytime in electronic media; one can go back and read a news article again in a newspaper, while one cannot go back and recheck what he/she has seen; the tone of voice used in print media is passive, literary and reader-friendly, while the language used in electronic media is active voice and more spoken-friendly; and regular updates of news are not possible in print media, while in electronic media even a minute-to-minute news update is doable. (Kipphan, 2001, p.6)

The debate to whether print journalism should still exist or not is rather subjective and arbitrary. Whilst some academics and field experts believe that print media should die and the Internet should quench the thirst of news, others are more concerned about the implications of democracy and the business of tangible products.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, said, “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right. And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter” (Baran & Davis, 2014, p.64).

Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-chief of the Guardian, said, “I think, we have to face up to the prospect that for first time since the enlightenment, you are going to have major cities in the UK and western democracies without any kind of verifiable source of news. That hasn’t happened for 200-300 years and I think, it is going to have very profound implications” (BBC Radio, 2008).

The above two statements raise several questions concerning the evolution and future of print journalism. Though today our newspapers are better presented than ever before, the last few years have put the traditional print media at a critical stage where the digital media is overrunning with a new style of presenting news. This is happening through social media platforms, including mainly YouTube (video), SoundCloud (audio), Facebook and Twitter. It has been observed that the number of copies of newspapers that companies print is steadily declining because of a shift of readership from print to online. (Lundén, 2008, p.5) Newsrooms in Mauritius had to put themselves abreast to this new trend and invest in web development and social media management.

Print journalism of the yesteryear was financially dependent on the sales of the paper’s copies. (Edmonds, 2013) Gradually, newsrooms’ revenues started being profoundly dependent on paid advertising. However, with the decline in print readership, advisements started decreasing too thus affecting the sustainability of print journalism. In his article published in Forbes, Robert Hof claimed, “…spending on online ads will pass that of combined newspaper and magazine advertising for the first time this year” (Hof, 2012). Therefore, it can be safely said that advertising has firmly grown on the web, not only because of its increased readership but also because it is a lot cheaper to advertise online than in printed editions. Cost cutting and layings-off have been all too normal throughout the print industry after the advent of the 2008-2009 economic crisis. The latest Newspaper Fact Sheet published by the Pew Research Centre mentioned, “Several larger media conglomerates spun off their newspaper divisions as separate companies in an attempt to prevent the newspaper industry’s woes from affecting the health of their broadcast divisions” (Barthel, 2015).

According to the US readership data from Nielsen Scarborough’s 2014 Newspaper Penetration Report (2014), 56% of newspaper consumers read it solely in print, whereas 11% readers opt for computers; 5% read it on mobile devices; and 11% read news in print, on computer and mobile. Looking at the economic side, there has been a decrease of 5% in the print ads revenue since the last five years; on the other hand, there has been an increase of 3% in the digital ads revenue. (Scarborough, 2014) Likewise, according to the American Society of News Editors’ Newsroom Employment Census (2015), the overall print media employment fell by 11% in 2008, 6% in 2012 and 3% in 2013. (ASNE, 2015) Remarkably, although The New York Times had an average of less than 650,000 weekday print circulation in September 2014, the newsroom’s website and mobile apps involved approximately 54 million first-time visitors in January 2015, and the mainstream of their paid circulation came from digital platforms. (Barthel, 2015)

Conclusion

Print journalism has evolved drastically since its beginning. Although electronic media and the Internet have emerged alongside, it is an undeniable fact that well-established print media agencies still survive in this competitive market through newspapers and magazines. The economic recession of 2008-2009 brought a change in the financial landscape of the news industry, yet advertising can still be considered as the focal revenue for newspapers. The death of print media has been foretold numerous times in the past, but newspapers have lasted in one layout or another every time. In the words of one of the world’s leading academic experts on media economics, Professor Robert Picard, “The newspaper industry has stopped growing and investors are unhappy, but the industry isn’t dying” (Picard, 2008). Somehow, the lack of vision and pessimism are the biggest challenged being faced by the print journalism industry today. There are ample opportunities for media – online and offline – to discover. Print media of today should opt for value-added and special content strategies to endure.

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Bibliography

  • Vermeulen, F., 2013. How the newspapers improved sales by debunking an industry myth. [Online] Available at: https://hbr.org/video/2228325665001/gain-competitive-advantageby-questioning-old-habits [Accessed 20 October 2015].
  • ASNE, 2015. Table A – Minority employment in daily newspapers. [Online] Available at: http://asne.org/content.asp?pl=140&sl=129&contentid=129 [Accessed 10 October 2015].
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  • Fernandes, D., 2013. History of Printing and Newspaper. New Delhi, India: Woodblock.
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  • Keeble, R., 2005. Print Journalism: A Critical Introduction. Oxon: Routledge.
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  • Lundén, K., 2008. The Death of Print? – The Challenges and Opportunities facing the Print Media on the Web. Reuters Institute Fellowship, 1(1).
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