Media industry going hammer and tongs

The print edition, for all its high cost and difficulties, gives credibility to these newspapers reporting, though at times they err


THE media industry, especially newspapers, has been the talking point in the past few months. Utusan Melayu (M) Bhd shuttered due to financial difficulties. Media Prima Bhd is undergoing a massive restructuring exercise. Berjaya Media Bhd’s last trading day on the stock exchange was Nov 4, 2019.

Other similar organisations are almost living day by day, trying to piece together what will work in a totally changed landscape.

What is boggling is the fact that the media industry has not lost its zest. Newspapers, despite all the dark and end of the world-like predictions, have been going at it hammer and tongs.

But the industry is an enigma like the Liverpool FC. It is one of the greatest teams on the planet with the most exciting brand of football, won the Champions League six times with the most recent last season yet — it has not lifted the Premier League for 30 years.

It is easy to give conjectures on the tumble of media. Recently, Employees Provident Fund CEO Tunku Alizakri Alias at a youth forum spoke about the challenges faced by CEOs in bridging the gap between older and young employees due to different expectations and experiences.

He said the change is about managing older people who may feel threatened by technology, and “snazzy young people” who talk in a different language.

“For example, look at the media industry. A few firms are on the verge of winding up. It is rather bizarre that their customers are the Generation Y (Gen Y) and they do not listen to what this generation wants.

“They continue to operate the company like 20 years ago. This is a huge challenge and when we talk about mindset shift, I think we have to start with the board first,” national news agency Bernama quoted him as saying.

Tunku Alizakri may have a point, especially with reading habits changed and how the younger generations perceive the media has taken a new path.

But that would be as simple as saying a fund could not give high dividends due to a slow economy and a lacklustre stock market. Perhaps the whole world is ignoring the younger generation. In the US, the paid circulation of daily newspapers has dropped from 62.82 million in 1987 to 28.6 million last year.

Advertising revenues in newspapers in the US were US$48.6 billion (RM201.69 billion) in 2000, based on News Media Alliance figures, but were down to an estimated US$14.3 billion last year, based on filings of listed newsprint companies.

While the mantra has been about going digital, a report by the Pew Research Centre quoting Comscore Media Metrix Multi-Platform said the average minutes per visit for the top 50 US daily newspapers based on circulation was only 2.32 minutes in the fourth quarter of 2018 (4Q18) compared to 2.59 minutes in 4Q15.

Interestingly, although millenials read more than older generations, a report suggested that Americans aged between 20 and 34 only spend less than 6.6 minutes a day or 0.11 hours reading. The average American reads 0.28 hours or 16.8 minutes daily. This is a drop from about 35 minutes a couple of decades ago.

The situation is somewhat similar in the UK. A report by UK Office of Communications showed that circulation of national newspaper titles has plummeted 52% in the last eight years. The circulation of national titles was 22 million in 2010, but dropped to 10.4 million in 2018.

It is almost the same for Malaysian newspapers. The question is whether the industry has hit rock bottom. A somewhat light at the end of the tunnel is that Gen Y is reading more than their older generations.

Research shows that millennials are always or almost always online and connected. They spend most of their time connected to social media. You just have to take a train ride during the morning rush hour to prove that point.

Though the younger generations still read hard news, they’re more inclined to read about pop culture, music, television (TV) and movies and entertainment-related issues. They are more connected to social influencers or icons.

An Instagram picture of Uqasha Senrose with a caption “tengah termenung apa tu Uqasha Senrose, teringatkan kita ke” gets more shares, likes and comments than a good news piece about the country’s economy.

A Korean pop icon promoting a product would see the item flying off the shelf in minutes. What a lady buys at a designer store is more loved on Facebook than the billions of plastic bottles polluting the sea.

Or the viral story would be about Andy Hui’s scandal with TVB actress Jacqueline Wong, instead of the CEO of a government-linked company resigning.

There is no clear solution to the newspaper industry’s struggle. In the UK and the US, print continues to make its daily runs. The print edition, for all its high cost and difficulties, gives credibility to these newspapers reporting, though at times they err. But to err is only human.

It would be a sad day if mainstream newspapers have to revert to pictures of an icon like Uqasha Senrose on the front page, besides the main story headlined “dividends lower due to lacklustre stock market”.

Mohamad Azlan Jaafar is the editor-in-chief of The Malaysian Reserve.