Newspapers must rebrand to survive (Thursday, August 8, 2013, pg 17)


Washington Post was to Amazon founder, Bezos, for $250 millionWashington Post was to Amazon founder, Bezos, for $250 millionAs newspapers face the challenge of low sales globally, players in the industry in Ghana say it is time for the print media in the country to invest more in innovation and online presence.

According to them, while Internet penetration was slow in Ghana and most part of Africa, its capacity to cripple the newspaper industry in the country was real.
However, they all agreed that newspapers would continue to exist, irrespective of the punch lines of the digital era.

The comments of the Managing Director of the Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL), Mr Ken Ashigbey; the Founding Editor of the Independent and Co-Publisher of the Sports Concord, Mr Kabral Blay-Amihere; the Editor of the Daily Graphic, Mr Ransford Tetteh; the Publisher of the newspapers in the stables of the Western Publications Ghana Limited, Mr Freddy Blay, and the Editor of the Ghanaian Times, Mr David Agbenu, were in reaction to the sale of the powerful United States newspaper, the Washington Post, to an online company, Amazon.

Best known for bringing the Richard Nixon administration down on its knees in 1974, with its revelation of the scandalous Watergate saga, the Washington Post was sold to the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, for $250 million.

The surprise sale ends the Graham Family’s 80-year ownership of the Post, which the family acquired in 1933.

The flagship American newspaper has struggled to adapt its coverage to the digital era and suffered a sharp decline in advertising revenue and circulation, although it remains one of America’s most authoritative dailies.
Like many newspapers in the Internet era, the paper has struggled to maintain its print circulation — and has watched its profits dwindle.

Its daily circulation fell by 8.3 per cent during the fourth quarter of 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.
The Washington Post now has a daily circulation of 473,000 copies, making it the seventh largest newspaper in the US.

But just three years ago its circulation was 578,482.

As for profit, it plummeted by 83 per cent during the first quarter of this year.

It is not only the Washington Post that has been swimming against the tide and has to seek redemption in the hands of investors. The first week of August, will be remembered for the wave of media sell-outs in the US.
While the New York Times Company sold the Boston Globe to John W. Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox, for $70 million, Newsweek, which sold its last print copy in December, last year, has also been sold to IBT Media for an undisclosed sum.

These sales appear to be the outcome of a growing Internet power and influence that the print media particularly have to contend with as they battle for survival.

That, Mr Ashigbey said, called for innovation and the sustenance of that innovation in a manner that would keep the industry always revitalised.

Although the Washington Post had used many innovative ways, including online videos, marketing and international syndications, the GCGL MD said the route taken by the newspaper indicated that “we can’t stay the same; things have to change. They could not sustain the innovations”.

“It is about time we watched that space and find an antidote to the disruption the digital age has brought to those of us in publishing,” he said.

“If we stay static, without innovation, we’ll die. The newspaper industry cannot continue to rely on its legacy,” he added.

He said it was about time the industry went to readers to understand their needs and satisfy those needs in whatever form.

“Those in publishing need to know that we are not just in the newspaper industry but rather in communication business. Our readers want content that satisfies them and if we understand that we’ll continue to be in business,” Mr Ashigbey said

It is understood that Bezos will own the Washington Post personally, independently of Amazon, which he has built into a shopping and online technology giant.

Mr Ashigbey said the rule of thumb was to ensure that the newspaper industry kept thriving constantly in innovation.

While citizen journalists and social media continued to define news in real time, he said, the print media still remained relevant if it could take advantage of the social media news which remained largely narrow in perspective.

That is a point Mr Tetteh shared.

While admitting that the Internet offered a challenge to the newspaper industry, he said newspapers should not be afraid of venturing into the new media.

“A major impact of the new media is content, which is more than available in newspapers all over the world,” he said.

The Daily Graphic Editor said “the best thing for newspapers to do is to leverage the advantage of the synergy between newspaper journalism and digital journalism”.

He admitted that while newspaper sales might be going down, “I don’t think it will die because the beauty of holding newspapers to read in trotros and trains and on playgrounds cannot be something that other media platforms can offer. But it is important that we keep innovation in mind”.

While admitting that the Internet would define the future of the print media in Ghana, the Editor of the Ghanaian Times also maintained that there were people who would continue to maintain loyalty to newspapers.

“Not everyone with the wave of the Internet will become Internet savvy. We’ll still have a market for newspapers, but the fact remains that the large number of people employed by the industry will diminish,” he said.

He said the sale of the Washington Post came as a shock, as it had been there for generations, noting that for it to be sold to somebody whose business was selling on the Internet was instructive.

“If the Washington Post goes on the Internet and succeeds, then we’ll have to toe the line. It is something we’ll have to watch carefully and learn from how it evolves.

He said while Internet penetration in Ghana might be slow, it was only a matter of time before it started biting hard on the newspaper industry in Ghana.

Mr Blay, publisher of the Daily Guide also held a similar view, saying, “Irrespective of how slow Internet penetration is in Ghana, we may have to go digital. We have to prepare for it because we have no choice. The value of the print media is dwindling and we cannot continue to go without the Internet. The newspaper industry is an endangered species.”

As social media and citizen journalists increasingly defined what news became, he said, it  was important for the industry to build an online presence, with emphasis on multimedia.

“If an old, respectable and authoritative newspaper like The Washington Post is sold to somebody whose main skill is online business, then there is a big revolution or tsunami coming which the newspaper industry must be prepared for and tackle head on.

“I cannot predict what is coming, but certainly we have to position ourselves to gain from the Internet revolution,” he said.
 
That aside, Mr Blay-Amihere, who is aso the Chairman of the National Media Commission, said part of the challenge was that young people, who were the future  of the industry, were taking to social media, while the impact of newspapers reviews on radio stations was deepening the woes of the print media.To reverse the trend, he suggested that newspapers in the country begin to repackage and rebrand.

He also noted that in spite of those innovations, the print media were still in danger.

He said the sale of The Washington Post was a wake-up call to the local media.

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