With the level of technology and connectedness we enjoy today, almost every news publication is readily and instantaneously available online. Why, then, would anybody want to fumble with the oversized pages and bleeding newsprint of a newspaper when they could just read The New York Times on their computer?
They wouldn’t. It’s no secret that the market for local and regional newspapers has been in decline for years, losing ground to blogs, online media and select few larger publications.
In May, readers and members of the journalism world alike were left reeling when The Times-Picayune in New Orleans announced that the paper was cutting back from seven to three days of print a week. And just last week, The Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. and The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Penn., two smaller newspapers owned by the same media company as The Times-Picayune, announced the same distribution cutback.
There are obvious drawbacks to this — such as job loss — but the trend is not necessarily a downward one.
Though local and mid-level publications are hardest hit by the media industry’s transition to all-things-online, the decline of regional newspapers is representative of the birth of a more dynamic, people-driven form of news.
Local newspapers certainly played a vital role in the history of journalism, but think about it: A commitment to the hyperlocal means the papers often focus on mundane or trivial events and — most significantly — they are limited to the circumstances of their location. A newspaper in a small town just doesn’t have the resources, writers or skills to compete with a larger, arguably better publication. Merging small papers with larger ones will help to improve quality and efficiency.
But what about the personal touch and community connection of a local paper?
Though the caliber of the Bellevue Reporter, my hometown’s newspaper, might not compete with that of The Wall Street Journal, it was always entertaining to read about places and people I knew. The impersonality of large-scale publications is one of the most notable gripes among supporters of local papers, but once again, technology has made this argument invalid.
Just because small newspapers are dying doesn’t mean the heavy hitters will be all that’s left for our news consumers. Blogs and online publications will continue to grow as news outlets, effectively catering to a much wider variety of people and communities.
Take, for example, Patch.com, AOL’s local news website. Patch works with smaller communities to create an online version of a traditional community paper, run by a local editor. Patch is proof that online and hyperlocal journalism can successfully merge to create a platform that is even better than either alone.
Even more interesting is the trend toward participation in current events brought about by the rise of social media and online news. Online, anyone can provide input, start a debate or directly address other readers. With physical papers, the best you can do is a letter to the editor.
Rather than heralding in the death of journalism, online news media have brought readers to a higher level of interactivity and convenience than ever before.
Want quick updates on the news you care about? Just check Twitter. Want to delve further into a topic? Chances are you’ll be able to find articles and blogs written by someone truly invested in the matter.
Though the core of the journalism industry is certainly changing, this does not mean that it’s for the worse. The movement toward more dynamic, independent online publications will actually help support big and small newspapers. And most importantly, it will create an entirely new world for readers — a more streamlined, up-to-date and interactive experience.
Burke Gibson is a sophomore majoring in economics. His column, “Press Pass,” runs every other Thursday.