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8.2. The future of newspapers in Switzerland

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Many people have tried to assess the future of newspapers not only in Switzerland but obviously in the rest of the world as well. A lot of experts around the planet have been very pessimist regarding their survival in the actual economic environment. It must be remained though that was the case as well when the radio was invented. The experts believed newspapers were going to disappear and let the radio take over. The same happened again when television came to life. And as everybody knows newspapers have been able not only to survive but they have been successful through these series of challenges. But the one that Internet has put up has been the tougher by far. The addition of one of the biggest economical crisis ever made it only worse.

A lot of voices have risen to declare the end of newspapers. For instance in a 2006 article of The Economist the following is written:

“Over the next few decades half the rich world’s general papers may fold. Jobs are already disappearing. According to the Newspaper Association of America, the number of people employed in the industry fell by 18% between 1990 and 2004. Tumbling shares of listed newspaper firms have prompted fury from investors”(80)

Declaring that half of the newspapers titles will disappear over the next few decades is really pessimist but since that article it has been the case for many titles in particular in the United States. Other specialists believe this is the end of newspapers as the public knows them:

“At the end of this investigation it must be admitted that nobody has found the business model that would allow the combination of quality information and mass distribution. It must be accepted that we are saying goodbye to more than a century of media history.” Poulet, p. 204

Such comments on the disappearance of newspapers are legion in the last few years and this pessimist view towards the future has really grown very common among media experts. But newspapers have a real future in particular in Switzerland. Someone once said that “journalists that settle to just be an information vehicle will perish”. It sounds as something that has been said recently but this quote is from 1845. James Gordon Bennett said that regarding the arrival of the telegraph which was threatening newspapers as well. He believed that journalist could not just transmit facts to the public. And his ideas are still valid in 2010. The way newspapers can compete with other media is with their contents. Quality contents must be the priority of newspapers because it is the only area where they can have a real competitive advantage over new media.

The first problem that has to be resolved is the issue of free contents that are simply given away. In Switzerland editors must discuss to reach an agreement in which contents have to be paid for. The state of mind of the public right now is that they can access information for free. And many are satisfied by the free offer of newspapers online and do not feel the need to pay.

The losses due to free contents offered by newspapers are not compensated by other sources of revenue online. If editors are able to change that mentality then a part of the problem would be resolved.

Newspapers have to focus on their contents and in order to do that they can use new media to their advantage. The press can have bright future if it is able to provide personalized and on-demand contents. This society has become much more individual than ever before and everybody consumes information in different ways. Newspapers could use the tools that are offered by new media to know every reader better and discover their centers of interest and which contents they like better. Readers will then have the possibility to have their contents they like the most, when they want and how they want. If newspapers are able to profile their readers then advertising will be interested as well to come back and it will help produce quality contents. The work of the journalist will be very different but with the same goal of creating contents that are useful to citizens and useful to the public debate.

In Switzerland the situation of newspapers is better than in most other countries. Granted that the advertising revenues have lowered and there are not as many people that purchase newspapers anymore. But the general situation is still sound and it may continue that way for a few years. The fact that newspapers do not suffer as much as the ones from the United States for instance is really positive. Swiss newspapers now have the chance to look at the problems that the traditional press has faced in the world and act consequently. Continuing to be satisfied by the actual state will not be enough to survive in the long term. The challenge will be for newspapers to transit from the paper form to the electronic form. That technological change has to be apprehended very carefully but it can lead to great results. The print form of newspapers will survive for many years but it will only be an extension of the principal product which will be found in electronic form. If newspapers are able to go through all these transformations and overcome that challenge then the future will look good for them.

In the future in Switzerland newspapers are going to be very different from what they are now. Users begin to see these changes with many newspapers titles trying to launch iPad versions of their contents. But these new applications are still experimental(81) in 2010 and editors will need more time to develop them so the majority of the readers can adopt them. Still newspapers will still belong to the media industry but their procedures will change drastically. The processes of traditional editing and printing will have practically disappeared and let place to processes such as graphics and video editing. But their roles in society will be intact. Newspapers are still going to serve as the “watchdog” of society ensuring to hold public figures and institutions accountable for their actions. Newspapers will still be an important part of the Swiss society and be useful the good functioning of the democracy.


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