South Africans are moving away from traditional news sources and are accessing news from a variety of online media, and UP students are following suit. In a campus survey conducted by Perdeby, 51% of students said that they access news from digital platforms, while only 16% still read newspapers.
Globally, there has been a drastic decline in newspaper readership. In the UK, circulation fell 25% from 2007 to 2009, second only to the USA who, according to and article in The Guardian, saw a decline in readership of 30%. Things aren’t looking better for print media in the future according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The report states that circulation is expected to decrease at a steady 0.2% per year from 2013 to 2017, while advertising revenue has been declining much more rapidly at 4.2% per year. In South Africa, the Audit Bureau of Circulation reports a similar trend. Total newspaper circulation fell by almost 3.7% from 2012 to late 2013 and although this seemed to turn at the end of 2013, newspaper advertising revenue still fell by 4.5%.
Advertising revenue is the main source of income for South African news agencies. Newspapers in South Africa are also competing against television and radio which have a listenership of 34 million, whereas newspapers only have 17.5 million readers based on the South African Audience Research Foundation’s All Media and Products Study figures for June 2013.
People want to access their news fast, and with South Africans becoming more tech-savvy, the masses are moving toward consuming online news content. A WorldWideWorx study found that by September 2013, 9.4 million South Africans were on Facebook and 5.5 million were on Twitter, showing a growth rate of 129% in 12 months. YouTube saw 4.7 million monthly active users.
These figures do not bode well for print news in the future, but exciting new avenues for a modern era of fast and effective news gathering and distribution is upon us. According to an article titled “How SA’s newspapers can save themselves” by Gill Moodie on PoliticsWeb. co.za, newspapers have the opportunity to save themselves by telling the stories no one else does.
Although people are moving away from printed news, they still prefer brand name news suppliers because they are deemed more reliable and better researched, and this notion was echoed in a UP campus survey. An average of 36% of students prefer to read news on news publication websites rather than on any other digital platform. The high cover price of the Mail & Guardian (R35 in South Africa), gives them freedom to pursue news stories other publications would be weary of as they are less likely to be dictated to by sponsors as to what stories to cover and how to cover them. The public proved that it is this type of hard-hitting, investigative journalism they look for when Mail & Guardian saw a growth of 5% in circulation despite the general decline in the field. Students don’t see newspapers disappearing from the media landscape anytime soon, even though they aren’t necessarily reading them.
Illustration: Johann van Tonder