This morning's lecture on the future of 'modern journalism' came courtesy of brisbanetimes.com.au editor Simon Holt. Talking the profitability and readability of journalism as it adjusts to the digital age, Simon's lecture was thought-provoking and kind of inspiring - surely that wasn't just me? I left the room amped up about entering the journalism industry and excited about the challenges I'll face and innovation and creativity I'll need to get my stories out there and finding an audience.
Simon is of the opinion that within a few years, daily newspapers will be close to non-existent, with online sources providing all the weekday news. He believes weekend papers will still be around, though, and I agree. It's a lifestyle thing - we're busier than ever and where we can save time we will. Online news is convenient and quick and you can read what you want: perfect for a work day. There are still plenty of people who enjoy having a long breakfast and settling down with a print paper for a decent read, and more often than not, that occurs on a weekend. It makes sense when you think about it.
Slightly murkier, however, is the idea of print magazines versus online magazines. Rolling Stone's Eric Bates notes that "magazines are in a very different position to newspapers relative to the internet." There is an entertainment aspect to news, but at the end of the day it serves a specific purpose, and that's to share important information as efficiently and conveniently as possible. It can generally be agreed though, that magazines are far more skewed towards 'entertainment,' yes? As someone who hopes to work in magazines and has more of an interest in longer, feature-style stories than straight-up news, this is something that intrigues me - will I be working in print or online? What skills will I need to excel in these mediums? And what about the whole 'making-money' side of the industry?
There is a massive variety of strongly-voiced opinions on the topic. There is no denying that the industry is facing tough times. Barbara Rowlands notes that "challenging times lie ahead for magazines," and with "declining circulations, rising print costs and competition from free sources like Google, blogs and social networks, traditional magazines are facing a perfect storm of changes that are threatening the very model their businesses have been built on."
At the same time, Eric Bates' believes that magazines will survive because "it's portable, it’s high-resolution graphics, beautiful like an iPhone if it’s done right. You can read it in the bathtub or at the beach or during takeoff." This resonates with me because it's the tangibility of magazines that appeal to me, much in the same way that I've stuck with my paperbacks despite the convenience of e-books. Print has a one-up on digital in a few ways, and for print magazines to survive, these need to capitalised on.
As Samir Husmi points out, "Fail to connect with readers, and a digital-only strategy won't work either." He says a community of readers is the most crucial part of a successful magazine business model, and it's about assessing the most effective way of connecting with your specific audience. Editor of magCulture.com Jeremy Leslie agrees, stating "People like to say 'this is dead and that is living' ... 'It's not as simple as that. As with most new forms, digital will succeed in various aspects. Print will continue to succeed in others.'"
Almost every one of the magazines I'd love to work for one day have adopted a strong digital presence, but interestingly enough, none have gone completely online. Last year Oyster Magazine announced that they would be moving from a bi-monthly format to a bi-annual one, explaining "we will be able to continue to grow oystermag.com and our other digital properties, as well as focus on other exciting projects that we have in the works." Since then, the magazine's online presence has continued to grow, and their biannual issues have been super-sized and super-special, turning the print editions into something collectible that the Oyster audience can justify buying twice a year.
The story isn't quite as bright at Triple J magazine, which closed earlier this year. The company stated that "this gave us a chance to look at what we're doing with the magazine and we've decided to focus on the annual edition, rather than a bi-monthly magazine." The annual, for those out of the loop, is a super-sized and in-depth look at the songs voted into the radio station's annual Hottest 100 competition. A major Australian music event, it's not really a surprise that the Hottest 100 issue is the money-maker. Though it's (very!) sad that the staff were made redundant, the situation does demonstrate the importance of finding a niche and offering something readers can't get elsewhere - music news and interviews like those in the standard Triple J can be found online for free in thirty seconds, whilst a 100-song-round-up-with-specific-quotes-from-the-artists is something you can only get in the annual magazine.
For a budding journalist, such an in-depth look at all this might not seem terribly important. These kinds of decisions are made way further up the food chain! But if I want to write for magazines like this, then my writing has be just as super-special and super-interesting and super-full-of-points-of-difference if I want to be published. It's important to consider the audiences being writen for and have an understanding of what they will respond to, and dish out their cash for. And taking on that challenge really excites me.