M Mahfuzur Rahman: Is the print journalism at the ‘extinction-level’ now? What’s the prospect of the print media across the world? How print media will pull through from the coronavirus thump?These questions can now be asked. Reporters even don’t need to be in a crowded office to do office work. Over one-quarter of the world's 7.8 billion people are now confined to the homes only. Borders with countries are closed, airports, hotels, businesses and schools shut. Economies are disrupted, causing huge job losses with widespread hunger.
The coronavirus with its social distancing method has already had a significant impact on lives and livings across the globe. Almost all of the staff of all most all of the newspapers worldwide are temporarily laid off, ceasing publication of their print editions. It’s undeniably a major blow to the print newspapers when it has already been facing an ‘extinction-level’ against digital journalism. Media persons are beginning to get laid off, or forced to take cuts in salaries.
As the pandemic began, authorities of print editions forcibly decided to cut their distributions. Because of maintaining social distance, authorities are constrained to allow indefinite period of leave for the employees, or sometimes allow to work at home, readers disallowed newspaper distributors or delivery men to enter homes fearing Covid-19 transmission, advertising revenues are said to have fallen by a large percentage.
It seems readers are on the alert about spreading coronavirus through newspapers although the WHO reportedly said ‘newspapers are safe to touch’. Some readers, however, are also ‘minimizing their extra cost’ disallowing newspapers at home during this crisis as they are now more concern on ‘future shortage of foods’. These are the main causes for shutting down newspapers or running partially or reaching readers with digital operations.
Rupert Murdoch-controlled publishing group, according to The Guardian report, has suspended the print editions of 60 newspapers in Australia, including the New South Wales title the Manly Daily, which has been in print since 1906 as advertising revenue slumps.
Media reports show, many American news websites' advertising revenues are said to have fallen by as much as 50 percent. Some of the US publishers have already asked for government intervention to keep alive the publications. Publishing of some local and regional UK newspapers may also stop because of the revenue loss thanks to the crisis. Publishers across the world are now struggling to make ad revenues.
The Guardian says: ‘…The independently owned free London newspaper City AM, which distributes 90,000 copies a day to financial workers in the capital, became the first paper to cease publication as a result of the pandemic. Its staff were told that the outlet, which relies on income from advertising and being picked up by commuters, would go online-only for the foreseeable future…All staff have been asked to take a 50% pay cut to keep updating the website….’
British political and cultural magazine New Statesman reports: ‘…Entertainment magazine Time Out has gone online-only for the first time in its 52-year history,… Metro, one of the big success stories of UK newspapers (with a free circulation of 1.4m), has not yet announced plans to scale back distribution, but it is likely only a matter of time….’
Newspapers, however, are gaining new readers with the digital versions during the pandemic and the trend is increasing significantly. But print versions, of course, now are experiencing a major smack by the coronavirus but it will overcome its jeopardy once the danger coronavirus crisis is over. Novel coronavirus has challenged all businesses to digitally transform during this crisis and print media is also trying to keep readers updated digitally.
In Bangladesh, most of the large print newspapers are entertaining their digital versions with decreasing the print distributions. Some of the newspapers have already shut their operations. Most of the local newspapers (mainly published from Rangpur, Syleht and Jashore) cancelled their publications facing revenue losses. Advertisement companies stopped providing ads to the newspapers.
Newspapers’ sales have been dropped by a large percentage in Dhaka city alone. The print copies of a leading Bangla daily has been reduced to around 50 to 60 thousands across the country amid the crisis by last week of March.
Of course, our future remains uncertain with threat of this virus. Experts believe, the pandemic could permanently change the ways in which we live and work. Today’s global situation has been described as “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime,” when the “world is facing the highest level of human suffering since World War II”. According to reports, over 150 million people around the globe are in need of humanitarian help and protection. Journalists with their profession are not out of this danger.
Some of the government authorities in the world have announced especial packages for journalists and authorities of broadcasters and newspapers, who are facing significant financial pressures during this crisis. Bangladesh government should also announce incentives for media professionals and ‘rescue package’ for the vulnerable media authorities by looking at the current course of the pandemic.
It is the expectation that everything will one day be alright. But human beings will have the wounds they are facing now. These wounds will take time to recover. There’s worldwide misconception that the gradual decline in print newspaper consumption means print journalism is dying against today’s online journalism. I think, it’s not dying but, actually, it irrefutably appears to have been transforming.
The New York Times Magazine writer Kevin Roose thinks the crisis in deferent way. “…As the virus forces us indoors, we should be thinking of ways to invest in our digital spaces, and build robust virtual connections that can replace some of the physical proximity we’re losing…Building a virtual world to replace a broken physical one is not a new idea…The coronavirus crisis is showing us how to live online.”
Writer is a journalist and Deputy Assistant Director (Media) at Walton Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.