Anyone who claims to know exactly how the future of news media will unfold has some big crystal balls. Most of us, inside or outside journalism, figure it’s somewhere between reporters forced to work for Rupert Murdoch-type kingpins engaging in dubious practices globally in different media, or adolescents blogging in their underwear in their folks’ basements.
What we do know is that newspapers’ newsrooms are where most journalism originates, and that Oct. 7-13 – the 72nd annual National Newspaper Week – is a time to acknowledge newspapers as not only a medium that still serves audiences and democracy, but that the print medium was hit harder by financial foolishness than new competitors. True, the Internet is quicker and cheaper – for advertisers as well as journalists and consumers. Web contents can be visual, searchable and interactive, and journalists should use all the tools we can. The Internet makes it easier to gather and deliver news, but that speed means checks and balances can be sacrificed, like bloggers not verifying something’s true.
James O’Shea in the book “The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers” writes, “The conventional wisdom is that newspapers – the credible, edited information they deliver, and not just the paper and ink – fell into a death spiral because of forces unleashed by declining circulations and the migration of readers to the Internet. But [they] didn’t.
“What is [hurting] a system that brings reliably edited news and information to readers’ doorsteps every morning for less than the cost of a cup of coffee,” continues the longtime reporter and editor of papers such as the Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times, “is the way that the people who run the industry have reacted. The lack of investment, the greed, incompetence, corruption, hypocrisy, and downright arrogance of people who put their interests ahead of the public’s are responsible.”
Some thoughtlessly dismiss newspapers as obsolete, ignoring that most of the news that’s reported starts there. Sure, local TV news is a major way for people get news — 25 million U.S. viewers watch local evening TV news, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. But that compares to about a 42-million weekday circulation of U.S. newspapers. (Plus, broadcast journalism has also suffered from losses in ads and audience, and has laid off people — in smaller newsrooms. Some dropped news or rebroadcast others’ newscasts, and a study of 59 local news stations found that 90 percent of all TV news stories were crimes, accidents or scheduled events. As for radio: most commercial stations ignore their obligation to provide news as part of operating in the public interest.)
Page 2 of 2 -
As to the Web, the Society of Professional Journalists and other groups say 95 percent of all original journalism online comes from newspapers. Further, newspapers’ web sites drew an average monthly audience of 110 million unique visitors in the second quarter this year, ratings said – more than 64 percent of all adult Internet users.
The “demise of newspapers” has been predicted for decades because of radio, television, cable TV, the Internet and, now, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Newspapers still have 50 million customers each weekend, and 400 million sets of eyeballs purchase a newspaper every week. Additional perspective: about 10 million adults use Twitter in a month; 164 million read a newspaper in print or online in a WEEK. Also: TV’s Super Bowl sportscast is noted as a huge draw – almost half of U.S. households tune in at some point in the game – but almost THREE-FOURTHS of American adults read a newspaper Super Bowl week.
Journalists’ calling is unchanged: Tell folks something they didn’t know, and make them think, cheer, cry, laugh or act. Whether using newsprint or HTML, cameras or microphones, journalists and communities alike ask, “What’s happening?” “How are we affected?”
I’ve worked in newspapers and radio since the 1970s, and I hope for a “blending” to play to the strengths of stories and media, drawing on all-news radio and traditional storytelling.
Six ideas: 1. Hire/keep enough reporters to focus on key areas (local sports, government, schools, etc.), and let them do short takes for immediate online presentation and fuller versions for more leisurely consumption; 2. charge for online access but make online archives free after a week; 3. invest in ways to tailor material to tablets. Phones are too small; computers can be clumsy; 4. sell ads based on advertisers appearing in BOTH print and web displays; 5. offer opportunities for online reader comments, but require subscriptions; 6. stress online and update 24/7, like wire-service reporters have done for decades and sportswriters do while games are still played. But once a day – say, at midnight – a “24-hour snapshot” is designed as the print-product summary of that day’s news and features. Call it The Day.
It’d be valuable that day – or any day way beyond National Newspaper Week.
— Contact Bill at email@example.com