Journalism not dead, just evolving as online medium


For those of you in Annenberg, see if this exchange sounds familiar:

“What’s your major?”

“Print journalism.”

“Oh. OK. Nice.”

Pause.

Students from the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism might be well-versed in bracing themselves for the unspoken question hidden within the hesitation: “So what can you do with that major?” People often snidely or concernedly remark that print journalism will be old news by the time the newest batch of Annenberg students graduate.

The question at the tip of many tongues, from harried journalists fearful for their jobs to aspiring reporters and the common reader, was what would happen to the future of journalism. But now, the final death knell appears to have tolled for print journalism. The New York Times, one of the bastions of journalism, conceded the inevitability of an eventual termination of the print version of its publication.

At the International Newsroom Summit in London on Sept. 8, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher and chairman of The New York Times, cautioned that the Gray Lady could no longer be available in print.

“We will stop printing The New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD,” Sulzberger said.

In case you missed the collective gasp from reporters around the country and editors jumping to public relations, don’t worry. You didn’t. Analysts have been composing eulogies for print newspapers since before the Kindle’s first release in 2007 and the ensuing squabble over e-reader dominance. The New York Times shed 7.3 percent of its print circulation from 2008-2009 alone.

Pick up a copy of the Los Angeles Times and you might notice it slowly becoming more threadbare. At times it seems flimsy little packets of papers lie where hefty behemoths of reporting once did at doorsteps across the city.

Julia Vann | Daily Trojan

Though physical newspapers might soon be doomed to the fate of sheepskin scrolls, journalism itself survives as a highly marketable, in-demand commodity. In fact, according to the Newspaper Association of America, a 6.7 percent increase in  daily newspaper readership — be it online or print — occurred between 2000 and 2007, even as dead-tree edition circulation declined by 25.6 percent since 2000.

The public has not entirely abandoned reputable news: It has merely gravitated toward the wealth of reporting on the Web, whether on the blogs of private individuals or from aggregators such as Yahoo! or CNN. Hyperlocal reporting has also picked up in popularity, detailing neighborhood events in a manner much like college newspapers. The issue, however, is that Internet audiences would rather trust faceless bloggers than time-tested, venerable news sources — as long as the content is free.

But which sites do bloggers and online news portals link to when referencing a source or passing the baton of breaking news alerts? The Atlantic, Yahoo News, CNN, Time magazine — or, more often than not, The New York Times.

Journalism has entered a transitional phase. Annenberg has acknowledged that, and stepped up to meet the industry revolution. Since this fall semester, Annenberg has rechristened its bachelor of arts degree in print journalism — print and digital journalism — reflecting the steady exodus to online reporting.

In our Google Generation, the nostalgia for the Sunday paper over a cup of coffee, scrambled eggs and toast has never quite applied to us, so the cultural shift to digital media is all but complete; we just require a workable business model overhaul of current corporate structures.

The New York Times revealed plans for a new metered-model paywall — which means that only the heaviest users are charged — for its website to be unveiled sometime in early 2011, joining other publications such as The Economist in charging for content. USA Today underwent an extensive internal reshuffling to “focus less on print … and more on producing content for all platforms” according to The Associated Press. Indeed, e-media platforms, such as the Kindle, iPad and other mobile technology might very well be one of the saving graces of journalism. But if any of you business students want in on the action, go right ahead.

As with every revolution, new opportunities always emerge phoenix-like from the debris. Online journalism allows real-time interaction with readers and a connectivity only wistfully longed for before. Imagine yourself blogging live from Afghanistan, the White House press room or the high-flying excitement of a Lakers game. Although we might be leaving behind the inky papers of print newspapers, journalism will still remain invaluable.

Annenberg print and digital journalism majors: We look forward to reading your high-quality reporting online in the coming years.

Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health.

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  • To continue with my earlier comment (thanks for the opportunity, btw!): If we’re going to use market incentives to revive journalism, we need to express what that market is. I contend that the market is beautifully reflexive because the market is YOU. You send your money (taxes) to various government entities that act as representations of you. That money comes back to you in the form of “policy”.
    ———-
    If we control the distribution or disbursement of taxes — if we control policy — through a dependency on the quality of a community’s civic responsibility, we create incentives for that community to be well-equipped with accurate and reliable information. Determining that quality implies an accountability, responsiveness, and fungibility that arguably hasn’t been possible before this century. This is where we find the “new business”. Technology’s imposition of what we currently call “transparency” is essential. And the new business will bring forth the new traditions of profiting from not-for-profits, profiting from low-profit LLCs, and gains from open-source products. Have a look at datasf.org for a hint.

  • Nice of you to mention business students, because there are obscured opportunities for business and growth despite the apparent death rattle of print. The opportunities are gathered around the idea that journalism-as-a-public-good is dying as well (or maybe we’re already at the wake), and that market incentives can be used to revive it.
    ——–
    You see, it’s expensive to maintain foreign bureaus. Heck, it can cost quite a bit just to send a reporter to the next county over. And you can imagine what the bean counters mutter when the editors speak of conducting an 18-month investigation before publishing a story. Revenue from digital advertising and “paywalls” cannot sustain journalism as a public good.
    ———
    I’ll revise that a little bit…revenue levels that sustain journalism as a public good won’t be achieved unless the content helps “us” make money. This is why the Wall Street Journal succeeds at collecting long-term, online subscriptions. Its content helps its subscribers make more money than is expended for the subscription. Spotty success will come with the “yellow journalism” that appeals to our prurient interest. But continual reports about which celebrities are in rehab, or auto-tuning Mel Gibson’s emotional hi-jackings have limited value, in my opinion. Hope that’s not too much of an understatement for you.
    _____
    Currently there is no value that can be assigned to journaled content as a public good; there is no quid pro quo. The perceived value is intangible in that it merely fulfills the individual’s desire for civic responsibility. So when we start assigning a real value to the information we can acquire, we will see journalism flourish. This means establishing market incentives for accurate and reliable information. That is an alarming proposition that presents many risks.