THE WAY I SEE IT #30 : By Darren Murphy

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OVER the last few years newspapers have borne witness to some tumultuous times. In fact, in the last five years the circulation levels are down a quarter. The recession has played its part, as has the rapid advancement of the internet, which has left many publishers forced into changing their approach to news and their target readership if they are to retain their relevance in this new age of digital media.

Perhaps when you consider that the majority of newspapers are such dinosaurs, you may actually be surprised that they still exist. You could say they go as far back as 151BC and the Acta Diurna. The ancient Romans paved the way and created what’s seen as a prototype for today’s newspapers. Translated from Latin to English, the Acta Diurna means daily acts. The Acta Diurna were simply public notices, posted in public areas around Rome. Much the same as a newspaper, these notices would contain information regarding anything from political events to the latest news from the courts. Information on births, deaths, marriages and local accidents were also commonplace.

In fact, it’s worth noting that the way the ancient Romans distributed their information is not dissimilar to something which is happening now in the newspaper industry. The Acta Diurna were on view for free in public places. Essentially the Romans put the information where the audience was. Much the same as many newspapers are now doing with online sites and mobile phone apps.

Many people simply refuse to pay for information these days. People feel strongly that they shouldn’t be shelling out for a newspaper, when they can surf through stories on their mobile phone for nothing. This is a big problem for the news industry, especially among the publictaions which don’t cater for the younger demographic. It certainly leaves me wondering what can be done to ensure the survival of newspapers in their current form.

Yes, there are the loyal consumers who will be at the paper shop door at 7am every morning, come hell or high water. However, without trying to sound overly morbid, these faithful customers are not not going to be around forever.

The youth of today get their information in a different way now, and they want fast, snappy and colourful news, but not dumbed-down information.

Younger folk are interested in subjects such as politics, current affairs, foreign policies and so on, however, what they really want to know is how these events will affect them. Most of all, though, and this I believe is the vitally important part, newspapers need to become a strong voice for youngsters, while stimulating the debates that concern them. Youngsters should be given a platform to express themselves in the paper, rather then being sterotyped as hooded thugs.

Failure to win over the younger generation may well result in the printed newspaper becoming obsolete. Young consumers are vital in terms of the longevity of the industry, and if newspapers fail to act swiftly and start fighting to attract teenage readers, it’s highly unlikely today’s youth will take any notice of them at all.