Digital media divide

The recent terrorist attacks on Mumbai have illustrated how online media has become a crucial news source in the twenty-first century. Is this another sign that online media is out-competing its print counterpart?

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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  November 30, 2008

Wednesday, 26th November 2008 and various parts of Mumbai, India’s financial centre, were under siege from terrorists. As the siege began; Twitter, Flickr and other social media had first-hand accounts of the attacks as they were happening. Even a Google map (illustrating where all the attacks were taking place) and a Wikipedia page had been setup within hours of the attacks.

Many media ‘experts’ use evidence such as this to suggest that print has just about seen the end of its days. How can print ever compete with this degree of immediacy? Are the Mumbai attacks another example of how online media is trumping its traditional print counterparts?

Well, there’s no doubt that in many of the world’s top publishing houses, print publications are finding it more difficult to generate advertising revenue. It’s no secret that well-known publications, such as The New York Times, have experienced big drops in advertising revenue this year; and many analysts attribute this drop to the competition from online media.

Yet it’s not the first time that print media has been challenged. In 1969, LIFE magazine had images of the first walk on the moon by US astronauts but the general public was more interested in watching the event live on television. LIFE battled to compete with television when it came to generating ad revenue, and many experts at the time pointed out that the fall of LIFE could be a sign of things to come for the print industry.

But many years on and magazines and newspapers are still around. Many magazines and newspapers adapted to the introduction of television by introducing more photos and shorter news snippets. Some magazines even capitalised out of the rise of television by producing television guides.

The affect television had on the print industry forms the basis of an argument, which suggests that print media will not just ‘disappear’ at the first introduction of an alternative medium that is taken up rapidly.

Can you imagine a world without newspapers and magazines? These mediums will most probably always be around. Personally, I think the web adds an additional choice to young media consumers who already absorb all kinds of media, whether it is print, broadcast or web-based.

This view is shared by Rupert Murdoch who has been quoted as saying that those predicting the end of print are misguided cynics, who fail to grasp that the online world is potentially a huge new market of information hungry consumers.

At the moment then, when horrifying events such as the Mumbai attacks occur, online media becomes a medium in addition to print and broadcast that helps consumers have a more rapid and deeper understanding of what is going on in their world.

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