By Hillevi Gustafson
For years the newspaper industry has been immersed in the morbid discussion on whether or not it will survive the coming of the Internet Age. The fact that this is printed on paper, and most likely read in print, should be enough proof that newspapers are still alive and kicking. We all know that’s wishful thinking.
Last week the Union Debating Society discussed the motion “This House Believes Print Media is Dead”. Writing as an editor and writer of a newspaper that has predominantly been print-based, this is a rather relevant issue. Lucky for The Saint, the motion failed – we live to write another day about it. That does not make the problem go away, though.
The fact of the matter is that the reason you are holding a copy of The Saint probably has something to do with the fact that it’s free, and that there has been some enthusiastic blue-hoodie-clad person fervently offering a copy anywhere you turn in this town.
That is exactly what the Internet has that traditional print media doesn’t – free products and easy access. If you want a paper you most likely have to use precious laundry money to buy it, and make the effort to track one down. It’s easier to just Google it.
The Internet Age is an era based on the social expectation of instant gratification. You will always be able to find the latest update on the Internet or on the 24-hour cable news networks. Today, a newspaper becomes outdated the moment it is printed. Check the BBC website or read the Daily Beast and you will get the most recent developments flashing at you, keeping you alert to the world’s every shudder and spasm. Why pay for it when you can get if for free?
The only problem is, that if you aren’t paying for it – the journalists aren’t getting paid. This is an issue that is probably more important then the potential loss of physical newspapers. Touring the offices of the Chicago Tribune a few years ago, I was confronted by the harrowing sight of rows-upon-rows of empty desks. Once upon a time there were reporters at each one. Now you just got the ghost of eager chatter and clicking keys as the next big story was typed up.
One journalist is forced to do the work that used to be done by four people, and will most likely be making less for it. Downsizing, mergers, closings. There is no doubt that the industry is stumbling. The Saint has been facing the same issues, albeit on a smaller scale. Adjusting to new media with minimal financial recourses is a cause we know all too well.
Maybe print will be gone one day, but perhaps what is not the most important thing at stake here. The real question we should be asking is whether or not quality journalism is dead. Expecting reporters and editors to produce the same standard of work, when getting paid less and doing more is delusional. We live in a time when things have become so easily accessible that we have forgotten the value of the work involved.
That is the heart of the problem. The industry has been slow to change, and to figure out a business model that is based on the unavoidable truth that is the Internet. Subsidising web content through newspaper circulation is not working. Look at the New York Times, next year their online content will also have a price tag. How this will affect print is still unwritten.
One edge that print has over technology is its longevity. This was pointed out to a great extent at the debate. Books, magazines, newspapers last. There is a stack of papers in the Saint office dating back to when it was still called The Chronicle. They’re yellow and faded but still legible. On the other hand, the past few incarnations of our website are no longer in existence. Since technology changes and renews itself so fast, nothing endures. This is irrefutable.
Journalism is inherently self-important and idealistic. Reporting is rooted in the idea that what you are doing is important for the community. These days those ideas seem to belong to the romanticised golden years, the days of Woodward and Bernstein and a source called Deep Throat. Most people see mainstream journalism as little more than an attention-seeking, fear-inducing distortion machine. The core values have been sold out in favour of higher-ratings and more advertising.
News agencies that are print based will have to start thinking in terms of new media, this generation has to start thinking in terms of old values, and be willing to pay the price for quality journalism. Changing an industry is never easy, and while it may look like we are witnessing the death-throws of print, it might just be growing pains.
The final point, ladies and gentlemen, is that people still like waking up to breakfast and a newspaper. It’s real, it’s dependable, it’s sacred.