The Death Of Print Journalism: A Suicide?

by Venomous Kate

Gannett Company, which publishes 85 newspapers throughout the country, is reporting a whopping 36% drop in second-quarter profit this year. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is trimming their editorial staff by 50 while hiring 95 more reporters. The move was prompted by Rupert Murdoch’s realization that every story run in WSJ is handled by 8.3 people before it ever makes it into print, an inefficiency which certainly contributes to the cost of publication.

Even the Atlanta Journal Constitution‘s getting in on the belt-tightening act, cutting 200 employees and eliminating some of its targeted news sections.

With news dinosaurs Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report all suffering massive drops in advertising pages and circulation, the folks at Small Dead Animals are waiting for the asteroid that will put MSM out of its misery.

Naturally, the print media is blaming the economy for the decline of advertising dollars and subscriptions. Apparently they’re too busy looking for scapegoats to read their own back issues, because the death of print media has been predicted for quite some time. It’s ironic, then, that newspapers — which online enthusiasts blame for being continually one step behind — are just now becoming aware of their seemingly inevitable demise.

The thing is, it’s not for lack of people actually interested in reading the news. Even as print readership has fallen off, online news readership has blossomed, a trend which should have prompted print media to examine its weaknesses. Unfortunately — for traditionalists, at least — there’s little that print media can do to lure its readership back. The medium itself is passeé.

I’ve always been a news junkie. As far back as I can remember, I’ve started my morning with the news. True, when I was 9-years-old and reading the morning paper over my bowl of Cap’n Crunch I was more interested in the comic section, but back then I’d occasionally read an entire story if the headline caught my attention. My morning news habit has not changed in the past 3 decades, and to this day I feel out of sorts if I don’t start my day catching up on world events.

When we were visiting the in-laws last week, I didn’t have internet access and actually found myself reading a dead-tree newspaper for the first time in several years. It was discomfiting to settle for poorly written stories that barely skimmed the surface of an issue while realizing that immediately educating myself further on a topic or reading a dissenting opinion wasn’t an option. More than once I found myself questioning statistics in a story about the election or the war but I couldn’t hop online to do some fact-checking of my own.

No wonder so many technophobes can’t discuss politics beyond sound bites and headlines, I found myself thinking. How can we ever consider our voting populace educated if they’re limited to merely accepting biased statements as “news”?

But therein lies the biggest limitation and turn-off for many readers: you either know and accept that a newspaper or news magazine has a political prejudice and will be running slanted stories that leave you in the dark or you assume you’ve got the full story when, in fact, you probably don’t. (And you know what they say about people who “assume” things.)

That’s the real change the internet’s brought to MSM: readers who are interested in the issues no longer have to depend upon a paper to decide for them “all the news that’s fit to print”.

Don’t understand the situation in Darfur, much less know where the place is? Hop online and read Wikipedia, then explore from there. Wonder why Conservatives think Obama’s secretly a Muslim when, after all, he attended a (possibly racist) church? Do some exploring and decide for yourself.

When you read the news online, additional information is just a mouse click away. When you read it in a newspaper or magazine you’re not just subscribing to their publication but to their political biases as well.

Having been through the whole Dan Rather/National Guard memo debacle in the last election, I know better than to trust the accuracy what I see in print. MSM’s political bias has, in my mind, become a given.

Judging by the drop in subscriptions and advertising revenue for print media, even people who don’t spend their entire days at the computer are starting to realize and reject this limitation, too.

So is this the beginning of the end for newspapers and news magazines in printed form? Quite possibly. But it might also signal a new beginning, too: that of the curious, self-educated reader. News organizations desiring to stay in business might want to take note and work with that. A good start: eliminating the annoying registration requirements and paid access to archives which simply send online readers looking for a more convenient source of news. An even better approach: stop fearing the blogosphere and start linking to it, instead.

Unless, of course, newspaper and magazine editors really are afraid readers will discover just how biased their stories are.

8 Responses to “The Death Of Print Journalism: A Suicide?”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree as to the need for *professional* journalists trained in investigative reporting. As a journalism major back in the day, I am always surprised at how many people write a “news” story without examining their own underlying assumptions and insert their opinions into stories without supporting proof.

    That, to some extent, is one of the big attractions of internet-based reporting: media writers don’t need to rehash background or delve into lengthy explanations but can, instead, link to them.

    But I disagree with respect to the lack of bias within news stories. True, journalists are trained on neutrality but there’s a trend in journalism (at least on TV) favoring blatant bias. Witness, for instance, how CNN’s “Prime News” no longer sounds like news but, rather, another version of Glenn Beck’s show.

    With respect to your point that readers may have difficulties discerning pros from amateurs, I do agree: but the pros who indulge in biased reporting aren’t helping that problem, are they? Hence my love of news aggregators that allow me to sort RSS feeds by topic, rather than by publication: I can see at one glance what the NY Times, for instance, says about McCain’s latest speech and right below it can check what NRO says about it, too.

    Have to agree with you on the Kindle. I crave one. They do offer automatic content delivery for news subscriptions, but I think if I were to buy one I’d find myself having an existential crisis as I sat with my Kindle in one hand and my laptop to the other.

  2. Great post! Personally, I’m totally fine with the migration of news to all-electronic media. Paper and ink have gotten too outrageously expensive for publishers to afford anyway, even if they slash their budgets to the bone and then start carving into the marrow. They should spend their money on their real resources — the journalists who make accurate and timely news accessible, the photographers and graphic artists/web designers who illustrate and display the news, and the most cutting-edge mobile electronic equipment available to help them report news quickly from anywhere. There won’t be any more “editions” to speak of — just a constantly updated stream of news. FABULOUS for news junkies.

    I do worry, however, that the role of the professional journalist will get lost in the transition as we wave goodbye to newspapers. As much as I love bloggers and web site owners, we *need* investigative journalism and pros who have been trained to ask the right questions and report accurately, succinctly, and responsibly. Otherwise, if pro journalists become extinct, it will be hard to know who to trust to provide content that is reliable and accurate.

    Maybe someday we’ll evolve into making journalism training (techniques, ethics, legality, etc.) part of every child’s education because we’ll expect everyone to have these skills. I’d like to see that happen as we evolve into “long-tail” e-journalism.

    And of course, I’ll be very interested to see how we handle libel issues as more people become the reporters.

    Quasi-related: I would think seriously about getting a Kindle if (1) I could afford it right now and (2) they got auto-updating news feeds. Or do they have that feature already? I haven’t investigated yet because I’m trying not to feed my electronics addiction with more costly gadgets until we’ve paid for our oldest child’s college! :o) But seriously, as print media dies out, we’ll have to see a quick rise in affordable, reliable portable news readers.

    Re your comment that subscribers to print media are subscribing to the paper’s biases: Of course. Any writer filters his/her stories through a personal world view, and the story gets further enhanced or tainted by editors throughout the publication process. But that’s also true of any reporting, whether it’s amateur or professional, print-based or electronic. Trained journalists have the edge with education that harps on neutrality and the benefit of having multiple editors before publication to review for errors or omissions or biases. Bloggers have the edge with giving readers easy access to many diverse views.

    I don’t think the pros are afraid of anyone discovering biases; I’m a former journalist, and I think they’re afraid that all the experience and training they bring to the table won’t be as visible or as valued online. It’s hard for readers to distinguish an amateur from a pro when so many web sites and blogs use good web design. It takes a deeper look at the contents to see how a pro offers judgment, training, and a thoughtful distillation and presentation of news.

    Carolyn Bahms last blog post..47×365 No. 77 – Toogie

  3. Print is dead. It just doesn’t know it. Printed stuff is entertainment for me. A book, a specialty magazine… relaxing in the shade with an adult beverage and a pipe or cigar. The news in newspaper is hardly that anymore. As you say, the far more news on the net and a person with their own brain and a question is much more reliable than two column inches of smudgy fingers. Hell, even The Economist, which is the only “news” magazine I read, has a bias and leaves me needing to do more research.

    The demise of print media happened when folks realized that Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Big Chill was right when he said that nothing in People magazine takes longer to read than the average cr@p. That was 1983 for you folks in the cheap seats.

    Jeffs last blog post..What Does a Child Molester Wear?

  4. I don’t mourn the impending death of newspapers, but I will miss reporters. I hope a place is found for them online.

    Donna B.s last blog post..I Hate Comcast

  5. As we say here in Atlanta,if the AJC was any more to the left they would be in Kalifornia,its a liberal rag of a paper

  6. “When you read the news online, additional information is just a mouse click away.” Agreed. But do people *read* the news online, or do they just skim it? And yes, information is just a mouse click away, but what is the quality of that information? Of course, people skim print articles as well, but the fact is that it’s much harder to read stuff properly online. It If I see a long online article worth digesting, I print it out so I can read it properly.

    Valda Redferns last blog post..The solution to the food/energy/whatever crisis

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