‘A newspaper without strong online presence will die out’
By: Sidrah Roghay
Earl J Wilkinson says youngsters today expect ‘news to walk to them’; unless a news story is trending on social media they refuse to read it
Back when Earl J Wilkinson was a journalist, he did not care about money. But the recession that hit the United States of America in 2008 saw many journalists lose jobs. It became evident that “money was what produced good journalism”.
The industry was evolving and “it is safe to say that a newspaper cannot survive without a strong online presence”, he said in an interview with The News on Tuesday.
Wilkinson, chief executive officer and executive director, International Newsmedia Marketing Association (INMA), is on a three-day visit to Pakistan. Here, he hopes to understand better the newspaper industry and predict where it is going.
The INMA is an 83-year-old non-profit organisation, which guides newspapers in ways through which their brand “may stick” and so attract revenue.
So what are the key ingredients which will make a newspaper stick? “Emotions,” Wilkinson gave a single-word answer.
“By the year 2020 there will be three billion more people connected to the Internet for the first time in stheir lives through smartphones. Pakistan will be among the many regions which will see a tremendous rise in smartphone users.”
But the emergence of smartphones, Wilkinson said, could be both an opportunity and threat; it could be an opportunity if newspapers planned accordingly. In the next few years, he predicted, the smartphone would get cheaper, faster and smaller, and a newspaper which did not keep in mind these trends would eventually die out.
It happens differently in different parts of the world. While in Pakistan, he maintained, the print media would stay in the form of newspapers for a while, the market could change unpredictably. He gave the example of Brazil, where five years back the audience was print-centric, but then the middle class grew, more and more people had access to the Internet, and smartphones and now multimedia are popular there.
“In 50 years, we will all be on the same page. The interesting debate is how speedily each country will get there.”
Wilkinson quoted the example of the Chicago Tribune, an American daily. “It’s only a two-year- old success story.” The newspaper in order to increase readership and thus revenue trained 1,000 employees to use social media. “The results were tremendous. Today, they don’t hire people who do not know how to use social media.”
There were interesting observations he made, such as the fact that youngsters today expected “news to walk to them”. So unless a news story is trending on the social media, they refuse to read it.
He quoted the example of a newspaper in Chile, where the newsroom had a screen showing how many times a story was shared on the social media. “It made reporters competitive. They wondered why their stories were not read. ‘Was it boring? Was it unimportant?’ they would think,” he said. That, he believed, was a step in the right direction.
The thing that most news organisations fail to recognise is that they spend a lot of time on journalism, and no time at connecting to the reader. “Connecting to the reader is the oxygen on which journalism thrives. What good is a wonderful story if it is not read?”
The interview with Wilkinson followed his meeting with Shahrukh Hasan, group managing director of the Jang Group, and some journalists at the Jang Group offices.