The best print media will survive

  • By Cheng Tzu-leong 鄭自隆

The print version of the Taiwanese edition of the Apple Daily hit the press for the last time on Monday.

The Chinese-language newspaper, owned by Hong Kong-based Next Digital Ltd, began publishing in Taiwan on May 2, 2003. At the time, Taiwan had just gone through the SARS epidemic and the nation was still in a state of health. shock; today, the newspaper ended its print edition as Taiwan battles a resurgence of COVID-19.

Born out of one coronavirus epidemic and ended in another, the demise of the print edition of the Apple Daily is a sad event.

Traditional media are under attack by new media on a scale unprecedented in the history of the industry. The new media, born from the Internet, have affected not only newspapers, but also the television and film industries.

Taiwan’s first newspaper, the Taiwan Daily News (台灣 日 日新 報), was established during the Meiji era, when Taiwan was under Japanese rule. Later, magazine periodicals introduced during the Taisho era and the advent of radio broadcasts during the Showa era failed to bring down Taiwan Daily News from the top spot as the main news source of Taiwan.

It was not until television arrived in Taiwan in 1962, and China Television Co and Chinese Television System began broadcasting, that the country’s media landscape began to undergo significant changes.

In the beginning, few people listened to shows or watched movies, and newspapers still had the most followers, the most influence, and the most ad revenue. It wasn’t until the 1990s that a tipping point occurred and television began to receive the lion’s share of advertising revenue.

The interplay between new technologies and “old” industries has produced four outcomes: replacement, sudden takeover, disappearance and coexistence. Which of these phenomena occurs, besides being shaped by social factors, is primarily determined by the interaction between new technologies and the “old” industry.

A classic example of replacement is the self-replacement – or cannibalization – of television. Color television has replaced black and white television, and standard definition has been replaced by high definition television, which itself is being replaced by 4K television.

A sudden takeover occurs when a small business is overtaken by a larger one. The small business does not disappear, but on the contrary is subsumed in the larger one and must embark on a new path.

The birth of television changed the film industry. The cinema audience has declined and the function of going to the cinema has shifted from an entertainment activity to a form of social interaction.

Coexistence refers to the old and the new existing side by side. During the Meji era, magazines became popular, but failed to knock Taiwan Daily News off its pedestal.

In 1931, Taiwan Hoso Kyokai (Taiwan Broadcasting Corp) made its first wireless broadcast, bringing radio to Taiwan. Despite this, Taiwan Daily News retained its position as the leading media in Taiwan. When the TV shows started, the Taiwanese radio industry was worried, but it soon became clear that TV had no effect on radio and advertising revenue was not declining.

The demise occurs when the new technology is weak and the old media is strong: the new contenders completely disappear from the industry. Taiwan’s first exclusively digital newspaper was the Tomorrow Times (明 日報). The website went live on February 15, 2000, and mainstream newspapers were suddenly faced with a new kind of threat: a rival who could update their “front page” every hour with the latest news.

After only one year, on February 20, 2001, the Tomorrow Times reported that he had burned NT $ 190 million in capital and left the market with his tail between his legs. It seemed that the “new media” would not necessarily have a clear path to victory.

Besides the subjective will of the board of directors of an online media organization, there are also objective social factors that cannot be ignored.

The rise of the Internet is a reflection of the drift of modern society towards superficiality, a society that demands everything easy: ease of visualization, ease of comprehension and ease of emotion, which fades almost as soon as it comes. was whipped. Because emotion is so easily aroused in cyberspace, it is highly diffusible. No deep thinking is required, it can simply be transmitted into the ether on a whim.

In contrast, newspapers have more depth. Reading a newspaper takes practice due to the unique way newspaper articles in Chinese are written. To appreciate the beauty of the written language, a person’s language skills must be of a certain level, so there is a threshold to cross.

In the fast food era we live in, readers who are willing to ruminate on a newspaper are increasingly rare. However, the good news is that the written language is the symbol of civilization: a civilized society cannot completely detach itself from the written word.

In addition, newspapers have, over more than 100 years, evolved the process of selecting and editing articles and along the way developed a set of rules to follow. Journalistic ethics require adherence to high standards.

Online media, while seemingly identical, differ on this essential point. More importantly, most newspaper articles go through several layers of editorial checks before being published – another day and night difference between “old” and new media.

Media organizations must continually evolve in order to survive: they will be constantly challenged during the different phases of their lives and will face replacement, sudden takeover, disappearance and coexistence as new technologies emerge.

If the public, raised on a fast food diet, eventually abandons the written language at some point, newspapers will be in imminent danger.

The print media will not die out and wither on the vine instead, the weakest will fall by the wayside and the strong will survive. Publications left in abeyance will become the outstanding periodicals of the future.

Cheng Tzu-leong is a part-time professor at National Chengchi University.

Translated by Edward Jones

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