Print media shall not die
The rise of social networks and online media, together with the recurrent closures of some newspapers and magazines have made "harsh winter for print media", "print media is dead" the most common manifestoes concerning the destiny of media over the past two years.
Before discussing whether print media has really entered the ICU or already at the edge of dying, I do think there is a need to clarify if the "print media" that everyone talks about refers to the traditional media or it is limited to print media like newspapers and magazines. I have this doubt because the number of people who bought paid newspaper over the past three to four years has gradually declined while the number of people who received news from electronic newspapers has increased significantly, according to a survey. It can be said that there is a change in Hongkongers’ habit of reading news in recent years. They might not have to hold the newspaper to grasp information like how they used to be in the past, but to browse the news on the Internet. However, the websites they visited are mainly the electronic version of the paid newspapers still. This shows that we still tend to trust traditional media more regarding the credibility of news and current affairs.
In August this year, the Centre for Communication and Public Opinion Survey of The Chinese University of Hong Kong conducted a survey with a random sample of 907 citizens aged 18 or above to rate for the credibility of media as a whole and 29 media organizations. Electronic media and paid newspapers received higher ratings than the free newspapers and online media in general, in which online media's ratings on credibility is low while its average score is the lowest among different media channels.
Clement Y. K. So, Professor of the School of Journalism and Communication of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Social Science compared the public's ratings on the credibility of media with the traffic statistics of online media from Alexa and found there is a positive correlation between the credibility of paid newspapers and electronic media and the traffic rankings of their websites, implying that the higher the credibility, the higher the traffic. Yet the comparison between free newspapers and online media is not the same, in which credibility and traffic have no correlation. Readers only consume simple news instantly from free newspapers and they tend not to have high expectations on the creditability of free and instant information provided by online media.
I remember an incident happened earlier which had been spread rapidly over the social networks. When someone questioned about the authenticity of the incident, there was a message commenting that: this has been reported by the newspaper. It should be true. Seeing this comment, I am not sure if I should cry or laugh. Many of the young generation who seem to be active in social networks often scoff at traditional media or the mainstream media, but they had more trust on them from the bottom of their hearts. As Prof. So said, perhaps the general public might not have very high expectations on the credibility of free and instant information provided by online media.
In addition, looking back to the disturbing US presidential election at the end of last year, some believed that one of the reasons for the defeat of Hillary Clinton, candidate from the Democratic Party was the fake news online since a number of reports or news on Hillary Clinton or the Democratic Party shared all over the social networks during the election were in fact unconfirmed or even false news which were purely fictional. To this end, the Czech Republic which is going to have two key elections in the next two years has already set up a special department to crack down on fake news. It seems that the public has been aware of the scourge of the overflow of false news and reexamined the credibility of media and the social role of traditional media.
It cannot be denied that in recent years, traditional media has been facing setbacks from the change in reading habits among readers and the economic slowdown, alongside numerous challenges in operation and tight manpower, limiting its capability to get the best content published. However, the way traditional media handles news and information still follows strictly its inherent code and standard which never spreads rumors or reports without any fact checking. Therefore, no matter how negatively the general public sees the prospects for the development of traditional media, when it comes to credibility and reliability, it is still impossible for social networks or media led by non-journalists to replace the position of traditional media. It can be said that there is still room for improvement for traditional media or print media yet in the foreseeable future, print media will not come to an end all of a sudden!
Chairman, The Newspaper Society of Hong Kong