Are we “Out of Print”?

With readership and circulation on a constant downfall we may be witnessing the end to the traditional newspaper.  Even big name papers like the New York Times and Washington Post are feeling the loss that has been brought about by the information revolution.  As everything moves from print to the web everyone is wondering what is going to happen to the American newspaper.

Eric Alterman, a writer for The New Yorker, looks at the issue of newspapers decline in his article “Out of Print,” published March 31, 2008.  The seven-page-long feature story looks at not only what is happening to newspapers across the globe, but also into what many are speculating will replace them.

After reading his article and looking at online news publications, I tend to agree with his idea that newspapers must embrace the pull of the Internet if they are going to survive.

More and more people are abandoning the traditional paper digestion of the news and switching to finding their news on the Web.  It is faster and easier for most to navigate online publications websites, not to mention the many added bonuses they all have.

From instant updates to consumer generated content online news sources are giving readers a whole new type of news that could never be available through strictly print methods.  An interactive form of journalism is being born where readers can voice their opinion, share their own stories, and mold the news to give them exactly what they are looking for.

I don’t think it will be long until printed news becomes almost obsolete with papers losing ad revenue to the less expensive means of advertising and putting classified listings online left and right.  I myself get my news from the Internet; it is faster, easier, and much more ecologically friendly.

However, Alterman does point out that valuable assets would be lost if newspapers stopped printing papers all together.  Important stories from the New York Times printed front page that do not make it to the online publication would be lost.  The gatekeeper role the newspaper has played since its beginnings 300 years ago would also be diminished with the anything is news ideals of websites like the Huffington Post.

With that idea in mind we should try to look at how this change from print to online publishing will affect the role of the media in our lives.  Alterman looks at the works of Walter Lippmann and John Dewey from the 1920’s, which give two different views of how the media works for the citizens of America.

Lippmann’s elitist view tends to coincide with the way traditional newspapers are placed in the watchdog role of informing the general public to what is going on in the country.  While, Dewey’s view of open discussion forums for citizens seems to reflect the idea behind blogging and user generated content.

Many who have studied Lippmann tend to question, who gets to decide what people need to know?  Who should be the one to decide what is important to the rest of us?  Is it truly beneficial to the public to have only the newspapers opinion on what is happening, or should people be able to decide for themselves what they want to know?

It is a fine line to consider which system of thinking would be more beneficial to the American people, having someone tell them what they need to know, or allowing them to say it themselves.  I think a hybrid of the two ideas is what will save the American newspaper, probably not in it’s print form for it may be too late for that, but definitely when it comes to the web, publications need to look at both sides of the spectrum.

By combining Lippmann’s idea of “intelligence bureaus” (a.k.a. newsrooms) with Dewey’s social networking theories we can create a new type of journalism that looks at both what people should be told and what people want to talk about.  A paper will not survive if they cannot give both the daily news and the daily blogs of citizen journalists.

With all of these ideas taken into consideration one of the most important questions we must ask ourselves in pertaining to the death of traditional newspapers is whether or not we care.  As an aspiring journalist I can’t help but worry about the fate of the industry I have been working for years to become a part of.

Yes, it kills me a bit inside every time I hear and talk about the death of print journalism, but that does not mean the basic ideas behind journalism are going to disappear.  Even if everything moves online within the next decade journalists need to continue to report on what is happening in this country and around the globe.  In a time when the world is shrinking and everything is becoming interconnected it is more important than ever for us to remember why we are writers.  Journalists will always have the job of watchdog and just because we may change our methods of print doesn’t change why we are here.


Times Union

New York Times



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