The Independent’s digital-only move signposts future of news (and decline of media relations)

Structural change in the news media from print to digital has taken more than 20 years to play out.


I used to pour over the quarterly reports from the Audit of Bureau Circulation data. It publishes circulation figures for the national and regional media.

Like other media watchers I was searching for evidence of the shift from print to online. Quarter after quarter print declined and online climbed.

There were fluctuations along the way as publishers tried out different paywall strategies in a bid to find a sustainable business model.

The data told a story of the rapid pace of innovation and changing media consumption habits.

It’s taken more than 20 years for a national print newspaper to close from when news was first published online by The Daily Telegraph in November 1994.

The Independent announced on Friday that it will stop printing from March and shift to digital only. Other national and regional newspaper will surely follow.

Newspapers, regional and national, are cut to the bone. Journalists are doing more for less, in many instances much less.

Future of newsprint, future of public relations

The Independent’s move is the beginning of the end for media relations. It’s the commoditised end of the public relations business.

If your job is publicity, pitching content to journalists, my hunch is that you’ve got 15 or 20 years left in the business.

I’m no sage but there are some clear signposts to the future of news media.

#1 Disintermediation

Organisations and individuals are sharing stories directly with citizens via owned, paid and shared media. Stories break via trending algorithms on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and other networks.

#2 Millennials don’t buy newspapers

I’ve stopped asking students if they buy newspapers. They don’t. The plain fact is that we don’t buy newspapers for news content any more. Instead we consume news via apps, messaging services, ad-funded free sheets, and websites.

#3 Competition for attention

News organisations are competing for attention and advertising revenue. Often they are reliant on members of the public to supplement their knowledge of a situation that’s playing out.

#4 Decline of regional newspapers

Regional newspapers are combining editions, shifting from daily to weekly, merging and closing. Regional news finds use via our Facebook wall or local radio.

#5 Modernisation of trade media

Trade media is pivoting into communities, events and professional development. LinkedIn is making an interesting play in this area with the Pulse product.

#6 Rise of robots in reporting

Automated technologies are being used to interpret and report on financial and sport results.

#7 Influencer marketing

New influences are emerging on every media alongside journalists and news publishers. Journalists are developing their own identities as media.

#8 Print as a niche product

Print is holding up in some niches such as comics, ad-funded free sheets, finance and long form; and sectors where high production is celebrated, such as design and fashion.

It won’t be long before today’s newspapers won’t even be tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper. The plain fact laid bare by The Independent is that news print is set to become a niche product.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.


  1. Media relations may no longer be the mainstay of daily PR activity but surely this is not the beginning of the end. Even if all news brands finally give up on print, won’t you still need PR professionals to pitch into online journalists – to suggest story ideas, influence and help with copy, and indeed set the record straight?

  2. I agree with Guy. The model for news media will change but what is often over-stated I think is who have the most followers on social media and that continues to be celebrities, journalists and a growing number of new bloggers and influencers. So I think media relations will still have a place, but where that content ultimately ends up is indeed likely to change.

  3. I think you’re being deliberately controversial here Wadds – commodity media relations trying to sell the same story to 100 titles does not have a future. However targeting influencers with the right content does. I’d say that’s still media relations – as set out in my new blog https://measuresconsulting.wordpress.com/2016/02/17/what-the-end-of-the-independent-print-edition-means-for-pr/

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