We’ve heard and read about it during the past few years: Newspapers, along with magazines and books, have been sideswiped by high-tech gadgets such as smartphones, smart TVs, tablets and e-books.

And a continuing decline in circulation and advertising revenues tends to confirm the handwriting we have all seen on the industry’s wall: how much future is left for print media?

How much longer

In 2012, I wrote for CJJ7 the article “Why newspapers survive.” My theory was, and is, that newspapers will continue as content even if they’ll appear in digital form. “Newsprint is just the body; content, the soul endures,” I said.

Going digital, total or partial, has long begun in the United States. In Cebu, the local papers run online editions or piggyback on online sites of mother papers in Manila.

What has kept the Cebu papers going as print commodities? They still sell copies and ad spaces. They’re still being read.

How much longer? That depends on the papers’ management and editorial thrust to retain their readers and gain new ones.

The bottom line, for want of a “new cliche,” is the level that papers can hold their heads above water. Beyond that, they have to rest on some digital platform.

Heading that way though, they’ll meet this red flag: digital newspapering doesn’t also hold much promise. Internet paywalls and advertising haven’t supplied the profits news publishers hope to see in their books of account.

There’s usually a “time lag” between industry developments abroad and in this country. With the pace that people have embraced the new media tech, what took 20 to 30 years before could seep in half the time or less.

Strengths

When would today’s paper readers, who rely on print for news and opinion, become digital consumers and get the same stuff and more from mobile platforms?

Some months ago, call centers, which constantly recruit workers, lopped off some of their budget for print Classified and spent it on digital media. Soon enough, they restored the cuts, perhaps seeing that the new ad window wasn’t that impressive and effective.

Newspapers need to enhance their strengths even as they must use devices of digital media to keep and draw consumers. One futurist educator identified the thoughtfulness and the time that go into the making of print content as the reason its devotees wouldn’t let go.

People’s sense of community is another. In the U.S., the small papers operating in counties and small cities continue to thrive, connecting with their readers in the way the cold and “soul-less” digital media does not or cannot.

As a clear-headed editor said, newspapers are not the future but they’re also not the past.

But it’s a hell of a job for Cebu editors to turn things around or at least to put off for a long while the total flight of print to digital.

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