Newsprint defies pandemic, making a comeback in Tunisia, Jordan

Mainstream media have proven their value during pandemic.
Wednesday 13/05/2020
A Tunisian man looks at local newspapers at a Tunis kiosk . (REUTERS)
Print has a future. A Tunisian man looks at local newspapers at a Tunis kiosk . (REUTERS)

TUNIS--Journalists, press unions and print media companies throughout the world are eager to resume printing newspapers after quarantines are eased.

In many places, print publications have been halted and replaced by digital operations due to COVID-19, which can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Print newspapers and magazines in Tunisia and Jordan resumed work at the beginning of the month.

The Tunisian media labour union called on print media to resume work starting May 4 while complying with health measures and professional safety standards set by the Tunisian Ministry of Health.

Raka Saaida, president of the Jordanian Journalists’ Syndicate, said that printing and distributing newspapers had become an urgent necessity. Saaida wrote on his official Facebook account that “printed newspapers are less ‘harmful’ than bills and metal currencies,” noting that they hold “significant national value.”

With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, many observers, journalists and media experts expressed concern that newspapers would have a tough time surviving.

Tunisian communication studies’ expert Mohamed Chelbi, however, was more optimistic. “Print newspapers will not disappear,” he said. “They will just have to adapt to the patterns of production and consumption of media materials.”

Chelbi added: “Print newspapers face great competition. The era in which the reader would buy his newspaper, whatever its content, has passed, and today he looks at the multiple screens and media platforms available to him when following unfolding events.”

He added: “the declining number of print newspapers or their extinction threatens democracies, which cannot function without the a venue for public discussion preceding parliamentary processes leading to the promulgation of laws.”

Lockdown measures have caused the public to monitor traditional media outlets, especially television, including government-run TV channels, in greater numbers. Many channels have broken viewership records over the past two months, according to polls.

Rumours and fake news spreading on online platforms and social media have also added credibility to mainstream media, which has often been turned to as a primary source for official information.

At the same time, print newspapers were the first casualty of the pandemic.

Tunisian sociologist Moncef Ouanas said “the main focus on television and radio contributed to the deepening of isolation of newspapers.”

He explained that concern that newspaper circulation could contribute to virus transmission “caused readers to stop purchasing print newspapers on top of the quarantine that originally prevented the papers’ circulation in the first place.”

Ouanas is sceptical that print media will totally die out, though, noting that “older generations are likely to continue to be loyal to the print media that have become part of their morning routine.” However, younger generations that did not grow up with the habit of purchasing print newspapers and are more accustomed to using social platforms and websites that provide free content could prove a challenge for the medium, he said.

“Why pay for something they can read anytime anywhere for free?”

He noted that “the next two decades will usher in further decline of newspapers, unless new developments take place.”

Still, many experts believe print media will weather the crisis and retain its role as a basic source of news.

The silver lining in the current health crisis is that the world is starting to rebuild its relationship with the press. In the final analysis, governments, which have become more aware of the importance of print news,  are likely to encourage their continued publication.