Old mastheads and new media : newspapers striving to adapt in Australia and South-east Asia

Duffield, Lee & Keshvani, Nisar Husain (2014) Old mastheads and new media : newspapers striving to adapt in Australia and South-east Asia. In International Communications Association Regional Conference : Digital Transformations, Social Media Engagement and the Asian Century, 01 - 03 October 2014, QUT Gardens Point Campus, Brisbane, Australia. (Unpublished)


As a key element in their response to new media forcing transformations in mass media and media use, newspapers have deployed various strategies to not only establish online and mobile products, and develop healthy business plans, but to set out to be dominant portals. Their response to change was the subject of an early investigation by one of the present authors (Keshvani 2000). That was part of a set of short studies inquiring into what impact new software applications and digital convergence might have on journalism practice (Tickle and Keshvani 2000), and also looking for demonstrations of the way that innovations, technologies and protocols then under development might produce a “wireless, streamlined electronic news production process (Tickle and Keshvani 2001).”

The newspaper study compared the online products of The Age in Melbourne and the Straits Times in Singapore. It provided an audit of the Singapore and Australia Information and Communications Technology (ICT) climate concentrating on the state of development of carrier networks, as a determining factor in the potential strength of the two services with their respective markets. In the outcome, contrary to initial expectations, the early cable roll-out and extensive ‘wiring’ of the city in Singapore had not produced a level of uptake of Internet services as strong as that achieved in Melbourne by more ad hoc and varied strategies. By interpretation, while news websites and online content were at an early stage of development everywhere, and much the same as one another, no determining structural imbalance existed to separate these leading media participants in Australia and South-east Asia. The present research revisits that situation, by again studying the online editions of the two large newspapers in the original study, and one other, The Courier Mail, (recognising the diversification of types of product in this field, by including it as a representative of Newscorp, now a major participant).

The inquiry works through the principle of comparison. It is an exercise in qualitative, empirical research that establishes a comparison between the situation in 2000 as described in the earlier work, and the situation in 2014, after a decade of intense development in digital technology affecting the media industries. It is in that sense a follow-up study on the earlier work, although this time giving emphasis to content and style of the actual products as experienced by their users. It compares the online and print editions of each of these three newspapers; then the three mastheads as print and online entities, among themselves; and finally it compares one against the other two, as representing a South-east Asian model and Australian models. This exercise is accompanied by a review of literature on the developments in ICT affecting media production and media organisations, to establish the changed context.

The new study of the online editions is conducted as a systematic appraisal of the first level, or principal screens, of the three publications, over the course of six days (10-15.2.14 inclusive). For this, categories for analysis were made, through conducting a preliminary examination of the products over three days in the week before. That process identified significant elements of media production, such as: variegated sourcing of materials; randomness in the presentation of items; differential production values among media platforms considered, whether text, video or stills images; the occasional repurposing and repackaging of top news stories of the day and the presence of standard news values – once again drawn out of the trial ‘bundle’ of journalistic items.

Reduced in this way the online artefacts become comparable with the companion print editions from the same days. The categories devised and then used in the appraisal of the online products have been adapted to print, to give the closest match of sets of variables. This device, to study the two sets of publications on like standards -- essentially production values and news values—has enabled the comparisons to be made. This comparing of the online and print editions of each of the three publications was set up as up the first step in the investigation. In recognition of the nature of the artefacts, as ones that carry very diverse information by subject and level of depth, and involve heavy creative investment in the formulation and presentation of the information; the assessment also includes an open section for interpreting and commenting on main points of comparison. This takes the form of a field for text, for the insertion of notes, in the table employed for summarising the features of each product, for each day.

When the sets of comparisons as outlined above are noted, the process then becomes interpretative, guided by the notion of change. In the context of changing media technology and publication processes, what substantive alterations have taken place, in the overall effort of news organisations in the print and online fields since 2001; and in their print and online products separately? Have they diverged or continued along similar lines? The remaining task is to begin to make inferences from that. Will the examination of findings enforce the proposition that a review of the earlier study, and a forensic review of new models, does provide evidence of the character and content of change --especially change in journalistic products and practice? Will it permit an authoritative description on of the essentials of such change in products and practice? Will it permit generalisation, and provide a reliable base for discussion of the implications of change, and future prospects? Preliminary observations suggest a more dynamic and diversified product has been developed in Singapore, well themed, obviously sustained by public commitment and habituation to diversified online and mobile media services. The Australian products suggest a concentrated corporate and journalistic effort and deployment of resources, with a strong market focus, but less settled and ordered, and showing signs of limitations imposed by the delay in establishing a uniform, large broadband network.

The scope of the study is limited. It is intended to test, and take advantage of the original study as evidentiary material from the early days of newspaper companies’ experimentation with online formats. Both are small studies. The key opportunity for discovery lies in the ‘time capsule’ factor; the availability of well-gathered and processed information on major newspaper company production, at the threshold of a transformational decade of change in their industry. The comparison stands to identify key changes. It should also be useful as a reference for further inquiries of the same kind that might be made, and for monitoring of the situation in regard to newspaper portals on line, into the future.

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ID Code: 79294
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Additional URLs:
Keywords: Newspapers, Online editions, New media, Singapore, Straits Times, The Age, Courier Mail
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING (190000)
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2014 The Authors
Deposited On: 07 Dec 2014 22:22
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2017 14:46

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