Declining newspaper ad revenue and changing readership behaviors have contributed to a “psychological crisis” in the journalism industry, according to current Stanford Knight Journalism Fellow Anita Zielina, who spoke Tuesday at the Bechtel International Center. Zielina said journalists have tended to be pessimistic about the future of newspaper use, which has led to layoffs and general uncertainty about how the industry should change in order to regain an audience.
Zielina proposed one possible solution to this problem: reformatting the way readers engage with articles through the commenting feature on newspaper websites. To accomplish this, she challenged journalists to be more open-minded.
Born and raised in Vienna, Austria, Zielina has freelanced as a journalist since her high school years. Currently an online journalist, Zielina discussed the decline of print newspapers during the talk, which was entitled “A World Without Newspapers?”
Newspaper ad revenues have decreased dramatically since 2005, particularly classic print ad revenue, Zielina noted. She attributed this to a dramatic shift from print to online ads.
“While there are still people that subscribe to print articles, most of us get news by other means,” Zielina said, presenting a graph on her slide depicting relative numbers of people subscribing to various news media. The trend over time for televised news has held stable, but the figures for print articles and radio broadcast news are both decreasing. The statistic for readers of news online has surged past the height of consumption of print newspapers.
Zielina said that this is because “social media has a huge piece of the cake.” She said many individuals are now receiving their news through social channels and platforms, whether by commenting about news-related events on social neworking sites such as Facebook or watching videos on YouTube.
Following her presentation of the current problems journalism is facing, Zielina suggested changes to news platforms, remarking that there is a big need for “a willingness to be open and to embrace new technologies to approaching the reader.”
Zielina addressed a fact that she deemed positive: people are still reading and talking about the news. She continued by saying the central question is how to bring that conversation back to newspapers, especially on newspaper websites. Zielina said that one major way to accomplish this would be to change the commenting feature on newspaper articles, making them more engaging, social and user-friendly.
“Comments are below the article,” Zielina said, as she pointed out the features on a news website. “It’s not the nicest discussion environment created there. People just comment, and we don’t really interfere with it. That says a lot about how much appreciation journalists have for their readers.”
Instead of this system, Zielina suggested adopting new ways to recreate the experience of posting comments by making the commenting more fun, which can serve to shape a valued debate, create intelligent discussion and, most importantly, create a landing page.
“We need to give the reader a way to follow the story even if they haven’t been in the loop before, so they can jump right into the news,” Zielina said.
She said this means looking at different ways to organize news on the landing page, adding that it is important that there be links on a newspaper’s landing page to the discussions happening on other websites. Zielina said news sites should be the central place to find all these other conversations and topics.
“This is something that technicians and journalists can work together for,” Zielina said, “but it will only work as we journalists become more open to change.”
An informal discussion after her talk ranged from challenges such as offering free online news to the expertise and objectivity of journalists, the trust of readers in their news sources and comparisons of international news to reporting in the United States.
“It used to be that you write an article and then you go home, done for the day, and you start a new story the next day,” Zielina said, “but we have to realize that it’s not like that anymore–that it’s more engaged and a completely different job in some ways.”