The recent circulation audit confirmed the fear of those in the media business. We all knew that circulation was falling, and falling fast. Newspapers have come and vanished. From 12, we are now down to five.
This trend is nothing new.
We have witnessed dailies and weeklies disappear around the world. The United States has lost almost 1,800 papers since 2004. That includes 60 dailies and 1,700 weeklies.
Print readers are disappearing even faster than print newspapers, and the pace is accelerating. The Nation, a leading English Newspaper in Thailand axed its print edition recently. It is following its readers on the digital format. Every newspaper is reshaping or tweaking to stay afloat.
It will be hard for Bhutan. Newspaper or reading is not in our culture. We love gossiping. With social media apps competing with mainstream media, many are led to believe that there is no point in buying a newspaper and read what they have already seen, heard and commented on Wechat or WhatsApp or Facebook.
Like around the world, media in Bhutan is being forced to confront the fact that Internet and social media has given people a platform and is challenging the domain of journalists. If they want to read, they can get PDF copies of the local newspapers, free on their Wechat group or in the office common server.
It is not in the interest of governments to look into dying newspapers or dwindling journalism. It is in their advantage to have a weak media who are happy with handouts and sound bites. Media questioning government polices or exposing their frailties or mistakes is not appreciated. At one point, a minster even said that there is no need of newspapers in Bhutan. He was happy with social media.
The only hope for newspapers is social media. There is an overload of unsubstantiated information or rubbish on the Internet. Freedom is misused to an extent that it becomes an overdose. Some are realising what rubbish they are seeing on social media. They would want journalism.
There is some truth when we say that there are to many media and too less journalism. Readers will read both hard and soft copy if there is substance in the content. There is no room for five newspapers when everybody has to depend on the government for advertising, the only source of revenue. We can’t target the million dollar advertising materials in the region. It is bombarding us – free of cost.
It is time to zero in on what readers want in newspapers. The best way to survive is to invest in journalism. When people are tired of rubbish, want to keep up with the changes and want to know about policies that affect their lives, they would want journalism. If we can provide this, there will be readers.
Authorities should also take bold decisions. Besides circulation audit, they should look at quality. When newspapers depend on press releases to fill up the pages and expect the advertising pie to be divided, it is not helping anyone. From both survival and journalism context, there is room for only two or three.
Media is important. It has to survive, at least a few.