Friday, May 23, 2008

What can I say ...

... It's been a boring week. I was sick Tuesday and Wednesday. Other than that I've been trying to finish all of my school work. I am pretty much done with everything for this class (a compressed class that is running from May 12-30 -- it's been hectic). I still have a paper to write, but it's only 5 pages.

Looking forward to the long weekend.

On the subject of my class, it's called "Current Issues in Mass Media." The class consists of reading a bunch of journal articles about the media and then discussing them. Many of the articles revolve around how the "new media" (blogs, internet magazines, etc.) are affecting traditional media. Having been raised in the print world, I have a strong sense of nostalgia for the newspaper world. It's true what they say, once you get the printer's ink in your blood, it's there forever.

It's not news to say that the face of the media is changing. Certainly, some would say that newspapers are breathing their last breaths. It really makes me sad to think this and to realize that most of these reports are right. But not for the reasons they think they're right. The internet isn't killing newspapers. Newspapers are killing newspapers.

With every new communications technology, the one that preceded it had to change to accommodate the shift in the market. For newspapers, radio meant that people were getting news faster through this new source. Newspapers had to change their approach to stories, make them more investigative, and capitalize on radio's weaknesses -- non-visual, only effective in communicating quick bits of information. Then television came on the scene and offered the same quick reportage and video. Newspapers again focused hard on their investigative angle and now had to focus a lot harder on catchy graphics and pictures. Now the Internet's here and it's one-upping all of these forms of media. Plus, it offers interactivity that none of these forms of media could ever hope to.

But it's not the introduction of the Internet that's killing off the old media, particularly newspapers. There are two distinct factors that are contributing to the newspaper's demise: journalist arrogance and the newspaper's failure to embrace substantive change in the face of the Internet revolution.

First I'll briefly discuss journalist arrogance. What's ironic about this is that this arrogance was applauded in the '50s and '60s. This modern-day arrogance is the result of the investigative journalist crowd such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein. These guys were pioneers in their fields. Like 'em or hate 'em, they were good at what they did and provided the changes (or foundation, in the cases of Murrow and Cronkite) needed to keep their mediums relevant. This inherent skepticism by journalists -- a shift from trusting what authority told us to questioning everything they told us -- has evolved into the public's very vocal skepticism of the media. They told us to question what we were being told. So we did. And we do.

There is a shift away from this way of thinking and reporting in the media. You can see it. Journalists are burying their long-held shields of objectivity and embracing partisanship. While it's a welcome change from their barely-disguised "objectivity" of recent years, it's not a change that's going to keep papers alive.

The change that has to happen to keep papers alive is decentralization. Monopolies are killing newspapers. Too much canned news -- the same AP stories ran in every paper -- too many national ads and too little focus on the local community. The only way for newspapers to become relevant again is to focus on their communities. Newspapers can tough communities in ways that the Internet will never be able to. Coverage of events that impact them, serving as a voice for the community and leading public debate about local issues are all ways that successful community papers stay successful. Look at the St. Petersburg Times or the Day in New London. They are both non-profits, but there are a lot of lessons corporate papers can learn from these publications.

Papers have the power to overcome skepticism and become relevant again. They could get their papers out and people could once again realize what a resource the local "fish wrap" is, but they won't. They will continue to ride their business model into the ground.

I still think there's a couple of decades left for newsprint. Heck, I might not even live to see its demise, but my children certainly will.

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