Think back 10, 15 years. How did you get your news? Chances are you got it by either newspaper or magazine. The channels for obtaining information were relatively few, the Internet still in its infancy. Fast-forward to the present and the entire news landscape is different. Services like Facebook and Twitter dominate our lives — kids and adults alike use both services to get information about their favorite bands, celebrities, brands and even politicians.
New technologies make it easier than ever for anyone to make a website and start writing about whatever they want, when they want and how they want. Now to most that seems great, but what about getting the hard, cold facts? What if you want the reassurance that what you’re being told is accurate and isn’t the fabrication of a 13-year-old playing around on his laptop? Your local newspaper is your answer. Staffed by editors, reporters, printing personnel and advertising reps, these people make up the trusted institutions that have delivered the news to us for more than a century. Their livelihood is reporting and producing the news and they hold themselves accountable for the news they produce. However, a tremor has hit our society, threatening to throw off the balance in the type of news we receive and how we get it.
Traditionally, newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have been the gatekeepers of information — the people who decided the issues that are most critical to the public and require their attention. That no longer holds true. In today’s day and age, all that is required is a Twitter hashtag to get thousands of people to stand together against corruption and greed. There are now websites that cater to all kinds of denominations — conservatives, liberals, independents, feminists, libertarians, anarchists, environmentalists, sports fans and the list goes on. People now have access to more specialized news sources, thus enabling them to bypass the big news outlets. This hasn’t gone unnoticed.
According to a 2011 Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism report, estimates suggest that “weekday circulation fell about four percent and Sundays fell one percent for the six-month period ending September 30.” The report did go on to note: “Newspaper websites are popular and total audience reach is staying steady.” However, the current model is unsustainable for these newspapers. Newspapers are cutting back more than ever, whether it be by cutting the Sunday issue or reducing staff. Many are shifting their focus to the Web and forcing their reporters and staff into the 24-hour news cycle. This is something usually reserved for cable news networks. However, making a steady profit off the Web has become increasingly hard.
While online advertising helps to support these media organizations, many have resorted to creating pay walls which prevent you from viewing articles unless you’re a paying subscriber. The results are mixed at best. New York newspaper Newsday reported in 2010 that they only had 35 subscribers to their website. Some household names like the New York Times have had success but most medium and small-sized newspapers are still experiencing issues. When thousands of websites offer you news for free, it’ll be very hard justifying the extra expense to a public already reeling in the face of economic distress.
Whether people realize it or not, we need newspapers. They keep us informed and they keep up us honest. They’ve uncovered corruption, showed us miracles, helped bring about change and helped protect those who have lacked the means to protect themselves.
The pen is truly mightier than the sword. We can’t let it run out of ink.
(as published on huffingtonpost, Aug 28, 2012. Matthew Maron)