Newspapers: Hanging by a Thread – But Don’t Grab the Scissors Yet

It is no secret that the news has changed. News itself, at its core, is the same being and always should be. The delivery, however, is always changing, always morphing, always growing. News is the facts of world events sent forth for the public to digest and interpret; to fit into the broader context of life and society. It was first sent forth on paper. Audio followed, and video after that. Now, the number of places to find news seems endless. The news is always growing.

Yes, revenue, for most platforms, is falling and, yes, the demise of newspapers has been predicted, but, when you think about it, the news audience, and the platforms available, haven’t really shrunk at all. According to the key findings page of the Pew Research Project for Excellence in Journalism report on the State of the News Media 2011 people are spending more time than ever with the news. The difference is that more and more avenues for news have been popping up, spreading the revenue thin. The more blogs, apps, and television programs that crowd into an already over saturated market, the more the same pool of readers and advertising money is spread thin. The more blogs, apps, and television programs that crowd into the market, the more the news grows and grows until it becomes an untameable beast that controls the public, and the people who work for it, rather than the way it began, with journalists and editors in charge. I fear that with the 24/7 news cycle and cutthroat competition prevalent today, the beast has already been born and climbed to the top of the news industry. This beast of the news industry does not have to be its downfall, and I doubt it will be. Humans have a remarkable ability to adapt and, I believe, the news industry will continue to adapt to changes in our media landscape.

Many predict that these changes will include an ever shrinking paper market and the eventual digitization of print journalism. There are signs, however, that newspapers still have a strong future despite the rocky road ahead of them. This past year showed some stabilization in newspapers, and in other markets some small growth. In addition, many papers, despite their revenue decline are still operating in the black. Lastly, I doubt that the citizens of this country, and the government, will allow a news source with such a treasured history and record to truly fail. In the worst case scenario, if even such famous papers as the New York Times and Washington Post fail, I believe that a non-profit publicly funded paper (similar to NPR’s model) will be created. Through newspapers are hanging by a thread, now is not the time to snip it. This thread, with any luck, will eventually thicken into a rope by which the papers will be able to pull themselves out of the red and back on track.

An article in the Columbia Journalism Review discusses a general feeling by many of the most prominent journalism scholars that the readership of the news industry is going to transform from a readership to a “user-ship;” that the news-gathering process is going to include less and less gathering. I, an undergraduate communications student, have the audacity to disagree with people who spend their lives studying the news industry. The future of news is hard to predict but I doubt there will be too big of a shift. Newspapers and radio will continue to trudge along understaffed and overworked with small revenues, the internet will begin to weed itself out, and television begin to hold steady. Though the days of large profits or across the board news outlets are gone, the industry will stabilize and newspapers, radio, and television will still be in the running. Slowly, ever so slowly, the demand for real in-depth investigative reporting by the traditional outlets will come back.


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