Greenslade: Printed Newspapers Remain at the Centre of Public Life

Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade has written of the enduring power of print and the ability of national newspapers to set the agenda in a way that no other media can.  

In a piece titled Newsprint newspapers – even in the digital age – remain very special, Greenslade recounted his career working in local and national newspapers adding that printed newspapers are “one of the vital signs of the nation.”

Greenslade says that, despite print circulation declines, the national press “is still setting the agenda” adding:  “Politicians court it. Broadcasters follow it. PRs feed it. And they do so not because of the online readership but because of the physical presence of the newsprint versions that continue to have a hold on the public conversation.”

Separately this week, News Media Association chairman Ashley Highfield, Johnston Press chief executive, has also spoken of his firm belief in the future of print. In an interview with City AM about the publisher’s acquisition of i, he said:  “New technology comes along, but it rarely wipes out what came before it. I think people will still want print for many years to come.”

Greenslade quotes Guardian writer Archie Bland’s piece about the Independent: “The print editions of our newspapers, even as they continue their inexorable decline, are such fixtures of ordinary life – sold in corner shops, abandoned on trains, pasted across the windows of empty properties, and still read everywhere – that their disappearance seems as unthinkable as the disappearance of the church.

“You needn’t buy one to retain a romantic, unexamined sense that their raucous daily appearance is one of the vital signs of the nation. If so, it may soon seem as if all of our hearts are beating a little slower.”

Greenslade concludes: “It is hard to avoid nostalgia, but consider the present reality: is it not truly remarkable that newspapers retain their central place in our society?

“Online news outlets are building massive audiences, greater still than newspapers commanded in the 1960s. They count their monthly hits in millions. They reach out beyond Britain across the globe.

“Their problem is they are all finding it difficult, at least at present, to make the kind of money required to fund journalism. Similarly, they don’t have the clout of the national press to scrutinise the ruling elite.

“Note how online investigative outfits have to court national newspaper and broadcasting organisations in order to give their work its necessary profile.

“So, in conclusion, ponder this question: in a world without newsprint, will journalists be able to carry out their central mission to prevent government, big business and the various institutions from doing as they like?”