We all know that The Rocky Mountain News publishes its last edition and closes today, two months before its 150th anniversary as the oldest newspaper in Colorado.
After I sent him the RMN‘s article announcing the paper’s closure, my friend Darren asked what I would do if The New York Times ever “goes under.” I responded, with some facetiousness, “I WILL DIE.”
Seriously, though. I’ve already harped a little about where journalism is headed, but it’s becoming a more critical issue every week. One of my college friends secured a design internship at a good newspaper for this summer but learned yesterday that her internship has been cancelled due to budgetary constraints. I’m still receiving far more notifications of cancelled internship programs than actual, outright rejections. And now The Rocky Mountain News is folding — not for want of readers but for want of general revenue.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the cover package of The New Republic‘s latest issue (March 4 — see its watchdog-themed cover here) is a treatment of “the end of the press.” Below are the related articles:
- COVER STORY: Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption): Why American politics and society are about to be changed for the worse — In a five-part, nine-page treatment, Paul Starr provides an in-depth look at the relationship between newspapers, society and politics, and how the death of one will affect the others.
- The Scoop Factory: Inside Politico and the brave new world of post-print journalism — Gabriel Sherman examines Politico and its success in a time of industry collapse.
- The Morgue: A reporter’s elegy for his dying newspaper — Joe Mathews bemoans the Los Angeles Times‘ shrinking newsroom and the resulting loss of quality journalism.
- Editorial: MSM, RIP — Why we need the mainstream media to endure.
Just reading the cover story’s first page (on the actual article Web page) upset me. The facts presented in the following paragraph made me actually physically shake. (Italicized, underlined emphasis is mine.)
Despite all the development of other media, the fact is that newspapers in recent years have continued to field the majority of reporters and to produce most of the original news stories in cities across the country. Drawing on studies conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, Tom Rosenstiel, the project’s director, says that as of 2006 a typical metropolitan paper ran seventy stories a day, counting the national, local, and business sections (adding in the sports and style sections would bring the total closer to a hundred), whereas a half-hour of television news included only ten to twelve. And while local TV news typically emphasizes crime, fires, and traffic tie-ups, newspapers provide most of the original coverage of public affairs. Studies of newspaper and broadcast journalism have repeatedly shown that broadcast news follows the agenda set by newspapers, often repeating the same items, albeit with less depth.
Then, on the second page:
As imperfect as they have been, newspapers have been the leading institutions sustaining the values of professional journalism. A financially compromised press is more likely to be ethically compromised.
And while the new digital environment is more open to “citizen journalism” and the free expression of opinions, it is also more open to bias, and to journalism for hire. Online there are few clear markers to distinguish blogs and other sites that are being financed to promote a viewpoint from news sites operated independently on the basis of professional rules of reporting. So the danger is not just more corruption of government and business–it is also more corruption of journalism itself.
I am inclined to agree.
I should clarify that I am slightly biased toward newspapers. So I’m going to go on a tangent and offer some more about my journalism background.
When, ten or eleven years ago, I decided I wanted to be a journalist, I initially wanted to go into broadcast journalism. That’s how it all began, really, for me. I was homeschooled during fifth and sixth grades, and already my mother — a chemist/geologist — perceived my tendency toward right-brain functions and decided to introduce more math and science into my life. As such, she dragged me to conferences where female professionals in fields varying from engineering to economics tried to convince girls to defy the status quo and explore more technical careers.
The keynote speaker at one such conference was not an engineer or an economist. Instead, she was a broadcast journalist from the local TV station whose 10 p.m. newscast I always watched. Upon recognizing her face and realizing she had little to do with math or science, I perked up and listened.
I was inspired. On the ride home, I told my mother — with as much conviction as a 10-year-old can muster — that nothing could stop me from being a journalist when I was older.
So, because of ABC 13 news anchor Melanie Lawson, I initially wanted to be a broadcast journalist.
Then, following a three-year stint at my high school newspaper (staff reporter, features editor, editor-in-chief), I decided I wanted to pursue print journalism. Specifically newsprint.
Then, following my first summer at Philmont Scout Ranch as a photographer and my first semester at The Maneater student newspaper as a staff photographer, I decided I wanted to pursue photojournalism.
Despite my initial five-year desire to be a broadcast journalist, I think I’ve always had it in me to go for print — be it reporting or photography. That’s where I acquired my first taste of journalism, and that’s always been the form of journalism that’s most affected and engaged me, as well as devoured my soul in the form of work.
Long story short, I am biased. Although I know the chances are slim if not nonexistent, I want the newspaper industry to survive and (if possible) thrive. I am not opposed to the advent of on-line journalism, blogs (that would be exceedingly hypocritical/ironic) and other non-MSM, “new age” forms of journalism. I just don’t want to see the newspaper industry suffer any more than it has already.
I’ll conclude this rather lengthy post with Starr’s concluding graf from his New Republic cover story…
News coverage is not all that newspapers have given us. They have lent the public a powerful means of leverage over the state, and this leverage is now at risk. If we take seriously the notion of newspapers as a fourth estate or a fourth branch of government, the end of the age of newspapers implies a change in our political system itself. Newspapers have helped to control corrupt tendencies in both government and business. If we are to avoid a new era of corruption, we are going to have to summon that power in other ways. Our new technologies do not retire our old responsibilities.