Is the medium the message? : The impact of digital media on the newspaper concept

Abstract: The impact of digital (new) media has caused both challenges and threats to newspapers’ continuing existence as a profitable and influential mass medium. While this is not the first time in history that new media appear to be challenging the future of the newspaper medium, from one perspective digital media offer not only direct competition, or alternative ways to produce and deliver news, but also possibilities for convergence, for making new media part of the traditional newspaper, inducing whole new possibilities for publishing. From another perspective, the newspaper medium is an old concept; a powerful mass medium with very profound consumption patterns, strongly associated with its traditional output medium: ink-on-paper. The purpose of the present work has been to examine the impacts digital media have on the old, well-established newspaper medium, and what consequences these impacts have for the future of newspaper as a mass medium, that is, is the medium the message? In order to achieve this aim, the present work has been carried out from three different angles: digital media, publishing and reading behaviour and presentation factors. The areas have been examined using several methods: instrumental experiment, eye-tracking experiment, secondary analysis, and case study design. Newspapers’ ’to be or not to be’ depends, in a theoretical sense, on what media constitute. The medium is the message in the sense that, in the definition of a mass medium, the strength of the newspaper message is that it is recognized as the newspaper concept. It is not, in that the message per se is dependent on the medium it is reproduced on, as a newspaper can be considered a newspaper even if presented on a digital medium, yet the specific way the content is presented will always depend on the technology and characteristics of the chosen output medium. Thus, while defusing the output medium’s significance for the concept, the strength of the newspaper, and its industry, lies in what hitherto constitutes the message: accurate, credible, serendipitous, and diverse content, but which is continuously adapted to the technology of the output medium, thus benefiting from it and further strengthening the developed, digitalized newspaper concept, or what will become of it. The newspaper industry has great potential to differentiate itself in a world where news is becoming increasingly commoditized, though it must further emphasize its power, which lies in the long-defined ‘old’ newspaper concept. Moreover, the industry must be aware of the fact that this refashioning and adaptation is a slow process.