on journalism and newspapers

My mom is a career journalist and I’ve always been interested in journalism, even though the closest I’ve been has been as a graphic artist and IT person for a couple of newspapers. So, when a friend of mine posted a link to this article on the current fate of journalism in this country and and the world with a focus on the newspaper and it’s seemingly imminent demise, I listened up. The article makes a series of very good points and while presenting a lot of cold, hard facts about what’s going on also has an unabashed point about the current world.

From my personal knowledge of what’s going on with the newspapers my mom is associated with, I can say that everything this story talks about is pretty much dead on and it applies to newspapers everywhere from the local weeklies that my mom runs, to the biggest papers in the country as this article points out.

The 3 main points are really this:

  1. Today, newspapers provide the overwhelming majority of original reporting and are the single most important tool for informing the public about anything.
  2. Newspapers are being hit by a perfect storm of rising newsprint costs, falling advertising revenue, decreasing interest in reading anything, and the current economy leading to sharp cuts to exactly the things newspapers do well.
  3. There probably needs to be a replacement for newspaper journalism, but it’s really not clear what that is and how to make it happen.

I’ll just touch on those 3 things, because really you should go read the article.

First, for all the noise being made about “new media” the vast majority of what goes on there is usually a commentary on journalism done in newspapers. Even TV and radio journalism is more often than not picking up on stories first covered in newspapers. This is because traditionally, newspapers have had the most feet on the ground, the most expertise, the most trust and respect and finally the most balls to do what needs to be done in the name of the truth and journalism. The “profitable” sources of news (TV, Internet and radio) may find that it’s much harder to be profitable if you had to field all of your own reporters.

Second, newspapers are seeking to become like the things they’re competing with in the hopes that it will bring readers and profits back. This means abandoning all the things which separated them. Unfortunately this includes nearly all substantive investigative reporting. This essentially commoditizes what newspapers have to offer making it even harder for them to compete.

The way forward is a lot less clear. I’ve spent a bunch of time thinking about it. What exactly made a newspaper? The article seems to believe it was a combination of respect, trust and unified resources with a common, concrete goal to shed light and report the truth. That sounds about right.

The article only hints at another problem which I find personally frustrating which is the increasing suspicion of inserted bias in all forms for journalism. The fact that a huge amount of our news industry is essentially entertainment has tainted all of our news sources and made the average person assume that every article as a position which it’s arguing for.

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