Is our print media eclipsed?


Al-Jazirah newspaper

A HEATED discussion is ongoing in society about the fate of the print media in Saudi Arabia, which is now witnessing acute financial setbacks caused by many reasons including sharps drop in sales, subscriptions and advertisement revenue.

The new generation of readers are increasingly turning to electronic newspapers that they can read on mobile phones, which they carry with them all the time. By so doing they can follow the most recent news wherever in the world they are with the push of a button.

Under this scenario people have started asking: Is there any future for the print media and any justification for its existence or the government support to help newspapers to overcome the hurdles? Or is the future source of news social media and electronic newspapers?

Despite the difficulties faced by newspapers all over the world, which is so grave that big names such as The Observer and The Independent were forced to fold their print editions, they still make profits with the help of various electronic applications that allow the reader to browse only a limited number of pages free of cost. Anyone who wants to read more will pay the subscription fees.

There are two views regarding print newspapers in Saudi Arabia. One is certain death and the proponents of this view are already in mourning with hot tears. These people believe that people today use electronic devices to read news and analyses. They say people can read news wherever they may be, so there is no need for them to go to a shop and buy a newspaper.

The second group is calling for a bailout of the print media by the government to give it a lease of life for many more years to come. They ask for support to the print newspapers because they consider them to be the government's voice.

The newspapers have a long history working as official platforms to educate people and persuade them to accept all government policies. A number of editors in chief, journalists, columnists and opinion writers have struggled for years to promote the culture, arts, and the rights of women and the minorities. These people want a gradual treatment of the current situation allowing the print media to convalesce.

There are grave challenges facing the print media. Among others, they include a huge drop in readership, subscriptions and advertisement revenue.

A number of studies advocate reviewing the content of newspapers, not their shape or the mold in which the news is presented.

A visiting professor of media studies at Oxford University believes that the birth of a product does not necessarily mean the death of another. He says the presence of the cinema did not cancel out the theater, nor did the television cancel out the radio.

He says social media platforms such as the Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are search engines, not actual news sources.

The Oxford professor says radical changes in the way content is manufactured are essential in order to transform the "talkative" newspapers into a forum for public opinion with the use of modern technology.

He calls for in-depth research to create content that can collate large volumes of statements collected through electronic mediums.

We should not forget the fact that a number of electronic newspapers still depend on what is carried by the print media because they are regulated by law and therefore are reliable sources of information. There are rules and regulations to control what is printed in the newspapers and the journalists are accountable for what they publish, a fact that forces them to be self-disciplined.

The current phase, which is an interim phase of acclimatization, necessitates extending moral and financial support to the print media until it is able to adopt administrative and technological measures to cut expenses and survive.

The ceiling of freedom must be raised so that local newspapers, in their new electronic format, will be able to keep pace with the rest of the world.