Note — The following column was published in Monday's edition of The Morning Sun.
For years now, everyone has talked about the end of journalism.
The obituary on newspapers has been written and re-written numerous times.
“The industry is changing so fast that the pundits and prognosticators are merely guessing at what it all means and where the industry is going,” said Timothy Boudreau, a journalism professor (and my old faculty adviser) at Central Michigan University. “And they’re usually wrong.”
The failure to create a viable digital platform for advertising and subscriptions combined with the democratization of journalism — the ability for anyone to document the news — and the convergence of print, broadcast and digital news outlets has created a crisis within journalism.
Just about everyone in journalism has made the transition from being just a newspaper to being a multimedia news outlet. Some have done it better than others have, but now pretty much all reporters are commenting on Twitter, sharing photos on Tumblr and updating stories between print editions through a blog.
All of this content means there is more chronicling of current events today than at any other time in the recorded history of mankind. But this begs the question: If the public has an appetite for news then why are newspapers struggling to keep the printing presses going?
Until a few years ago, making money off journalism was easy: Newspapermen charged a nominal fee for each newspaper and filled the pages with advertising, including cheap classifieds. Today this model is unworkable.
More people are reading and consuming news than ever before, but paying journalists to gather facts and report what happened so someone can eventually share it on Facebook is expensive. Above all, it requires a paying customer, which can be difficult when local classifieds are disappearing and 15-plus years of giving away news content for free has made it difficult to grow digital subscriptions.
On top of all this, smart advertisers are bypassing news outlets to communicate directly to their intended audience through blogs, promotional magazines and social media.
Yet despite all of the industry’s challenges, print journalism is long from dead.
In fact, one of the keys to financial viability in this new era of journalism has been a move toward specialization — think Politico, Monocle, The Economist, Bloomberg and so forth.
Nobody picks up the local newspaper expecting to read a foreign correspondent’s despatch from Burma, national sports scores or the latest from the financial markets. Local readers want to know their community. They want to know who is dead, how they died, whether taxes are going up and what high school won what game.
It is ludicrous to ask print readers to pay 75 cents for something that digital readers receive free. It is also just as ludicrous to call it a local newspaper when most of the contents are generic wire service stories and what amounts to little more than the re-writing of minutes from government meetings.
Content — reported, edited and, most importantly, curated — is what readers want.
— Dennis Lennox