Once you put the internet into numbers, the whole thing becomes so huge that it’s impossible to comprehend. This week’s Online Journalism lecture threw statistics at us like those that say that this year, 16.8 million Australians will spend 40.3 billion minutes on the internet and view 33 billion web pages. What does that even look like? What does it mean?
What is surprising is that the internet penetrates into more 50 and over Australians than any other demographic. Older Australians bemoaning kids these days spending all day glued to their screen may want to have a look at themselves, although the question remains – what does a 60 year old woman do all day on the internet? Updating statuses and reblogging memes on their Tumblr?
Long story short, it all points to an increase in the internet’s value in our lives, and particularly in how we get our news. An English language newspaper editor in Bogota told me his publication was primarily based on its street presence, on newsstands across the city. He said this with pride, and I respect his devotion to a medium that represented one of history’s biggest steps in the democratisation of information. But I couldn’t help the feeling that, with that attitude, he was going to be left behind while the rest of us zoom off into a future of touch screens and digital front pages. I later heard him admit to a Bloomberg man that the online version of his publication was doing much better than the printed editions.
Fairfax newspapers The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald already have more online viewers than readers who buy the physical paper, and most other big Australian papers are going the same way. Between 2009 and 2013 the number of people getting their news from radio, free to air TV, pay TV and, most dramatically of all, newspapers, has fallen dramatically, whereas news websites and social media have only gone up. Some of these numbers have been, according to our guest lecturer Trina McLellan, the source of “many glum faces in our industry”. But journalism isn’t supposed to stand against changes in society, but simply reflect them. Everyone who’s whinging and complaining about the death of print is wasting their time – it’s not going to change and we as journalists should be reacting to and finding solutions to problems such as that of revenue and the very serious issue of people getting their news exclusively from social media. So perhaps those 33 billion Australian page views represent a whole lot of opportunities for us journalists of tomorrow sitting in that lecture room.