Newspapers: the end is nigh?

newspapers deadEric Beecher, The Monthly

Late on Friday nights for most of the 20th century, on the footpath in a seedy part of Melbourne’s CBD near the Age newspaper building, hordes use to huddle waiting to buy an early copy of the Saturday edition, with its thousands of classified ads for jobs, cars and properties.

Thye’d pick up their newspaper, keeping the classified sections but dumping the rest into rubbish bins placed along the street by Age staff. This was evidence for the prediction made mid century by media savant Marshall McLuhan: “The classified ads (and stock-market quotations) are the bedrock of the press,” he observed. “Should an alternative source of easy access to such diverse daily information be found, the press will fold.”

The incongruity in that business model – profits from ads for jobs, houses and cars bankrolling the journalism that is vital to a functioning democracy – took several decades to play out. The “newspaper business model”, as it’s now derisively known, has imploded.

People no longer line the streets outside newspaper presses at night to be the first to see the ads. The internet has poached most of the world’s newspaper classified advertising. The money that financed quality journalism for a century is disappearing, with no likely replacement.

For Australia, the story is more significant than just the demise of an industry business model. In a small robust democracy with relatively little commercial quality journalism, it has the makings of a civic catastrophe.

Read the rest of Eric Beecher’s ‘insightful’ essay in The Monthly …