By: Dorothy Giobbe CHANGES IN SOCIAL structures will favor those newspapers which can recognize them and adapt accordingly, according to Jane Lewis, an analyst with London's Henley Center for Forecasting's Social Futures. Speaking at last week's International Newspaper Marketing Association conference in Phoenix, Lewis examined the impact of social change on newspapers. Across the developed world, the emergence of a service-based economy has created a demand for skilled, knowledge-based workers, and an economy that must respond quickly to changing consumer demand, Lewis said. There also is more affluence than in the past and more women working both full- and part-time. These factors have created fragmentation in consumer choices and lifestyles. "Audiences are becoming more thinly spread across an increasingly complex range of media outlets," Lewis said. Fragmentation exists not only in consumer audiences, but in consumer lifestyles as well. An illustration of this is the changing structure of work. A service- and knowledge-based economy does not demand a homogeneous work force, clocking in and out at the same time every day, she said. "The rise of flexible working arrangements is crucial to newspapers, because so much of our media time is a matter of habit," Lewis said. The powerful influence of habit is the force behind current media patterns, and, Lewis asked, "How will media survive in an era of flexible time patterns? Will people still watch television at the same time when they're coming home from work at two one day and seven the next?"
Strength over television
In this area, newspapers have a "real strength" compared to television, Lewis said. However, "the decline in the regular structure of the day does mean that regular newspaper reading will continue to be threatened." This, she said, highlights the importance of editorial and promotional strategies to encourage everyday purchase. The Henley Center's research indicates that in the United Kingdom, the importance of television may have been exaggerated "because . . . when you ask people how often they talk about what they encounter in the media, it's clear that newspapers too play a crucial role in social interaction." People discuss what they read about in the paper and "newspapers remain a key part of our lives," Lewis said. After 50 years, "television has not supplanted the newspaper as a key driver of social interaction, a media which provides common points of reference for social groups," Lewis said. Another area of fragmentation is the shift in soures of social values and success. For a long time, "the single most important way in which people demonstrated their social success was by accumulating possessions," Lewis said. But increasingly, "rather than demonstrating ownership of possessions, people seek to demonstrate knowledge and competence," Lewis said. Where people will try to demonstrate this will be in areas of traditional newspaper content, business and finance, local and international news, along with other issues.
Newspapers can help, but they must be careful of adding to the reader's sense of information overload, "piling more and more facts on the beleagured reader who has neither the time, nor the mental space to absorb and make sense of it all," Lewis said. Newspapers should provide a higher number of shorter store is so that the reader feels that he or she is being brought up to speed, she said. Lewis said newspapers should also examine key issues in more detail and discuss the issues behind the facts. They should also answer key questions: Why is this important? What does it mean for me? Newspapers have a real advantage in this area over other media, Lewis said. Readers who don't want the more detailed anaylsis of a particular issue can move on with a newspaper; they can't do that watching television. If they want to read an article later, they can ? but not with television, unless it is taped or recorded. Lewis said that one of the key forces behind fragmentation is the fact that "the structures that once gave shape to our lives are losing some authority," such as the decline in confidence in public institutions, the legal system, the education system, government, and the church. Lewis wondered what this means for newspapers. First, it suggests less of a role for "experts." This, she said, can be seen in advertising. Car tires used to be endorsed by a police representative. Now, ads focus on the safety issue by using a couple driving on a wet road late at night. "People increasingly derive their truths and their values from their own experiences and those around them, rather than from remote experts," Lewis said. For newspapers, that means "recognizing the value of alternate and competing versions of reality," Lewis said. "It means more value being placed on interpretation, rather than strictly on fact."