The fear mongering has got to stop.
All over the place, people are mourning the death of an industry that, in reality, is very much still alive and kicking. Journalism is dead!, they cry. Long live journalism!
Journalism is not dead. Journalism is not even dying. Journalism is alive and well, and it will remain so for a very long time. Perhaps journalism looks a little different to what it used to, but people look a little different to what they used to. Technology looks a little different to what it used to. Jobs, cars, families, cities, the weather – it all looks a little different to what it used to.
Fact: Newspaper sales have declined. This is undoubtable. They’ve been declining for a long time; pre-Internet, pre-Web (they’re different things). Yet it seems like digital technology gets the vast majority of the blame.
Here’s a thought: it’s not all the fault of the Internet. The Internet hasn’t killed newspapers, and it certainly hasn’t killed journalism. One cannot use ‘journalism’ and ‘newspapers’ synonymously. That’s like using ‘writing’ and ‘quill’ synonymously. Did Mr Bic kill writing? No. Did computers kill writing? Gosh no!
The Internet has not killed journalism.
There are many reasons why newspaper sales are in decline.
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that people are getting married at a later age. In 1950, the average age of women at marriage was 20.3, and males 22.8. In 1970, 20.8 and 22.3 respectively. In 1990, 23.9 and 26.1.
Working on the grounds that Australia would have similar statistics to the United States, in 2009 Australian women were getting married at an average age of 29.2, whilst men were 31.5. They were a massive 8.9 years older if female, and 9.2 years older if male. In real terms, this means an additional 9 years outside of a “traditional” family structure, wherein it might have been usual for the man of the house to purchase a newspaper on his way to or from work, and bring it home to the family. Potentially an extra nine years spent in education (which, it could be argued, results in a population that is generally better educated and more informed, and thus more selective about the news they consume – news that doesn’t necessarily come in tabloid form). Nine years spent living alone, or in shared housing, where perhaps no member of the household purchased a paper – not because they don’t care about the news, but because young people these days – particularly young unmarried people – live very different lifestyles to their ancestors. They work longer hours and travel more, for example – especially women.
The media is up in arms over declining newspaper sales because to them – the people that have always printed their news on paper – there is no alternative. The only news worth knowing is the news forged in ink and paper in grand printing presses in the basement of newspaper institutions. It’s simply not the case though.
Suggesting that declining newspaper sales means a decline in quality journalism does a massive injustice to the youngest generation in this society. Here are a group of people who probably won’t buy newspapers, because their entire lives, they have been able to get more up to date, more analytic, and more varied news online. They don’t remember a world without the Internet; many of them don’t even read from textbooks in school, instead learning on iPads and laptop computers. To suggest that this generation, somehow, is disengaged and ignorant is so completely incorrect. This is a generation that is more informed, more connected, and more bombarded with content than any group that has come before. They are selective and, dare I say it, savvy. They know what they want and they know how to get it. They understand how to sift through the immensity of junk that clogs what the traditional media would probably still want to call the information superhighway, with a snort, of course, in order to get to the best material.
They will demand quality journalism. They will demand content that informs and entertains. They will demand the ability to interact with the media, to contribute to the media, and to shape the way that news is delivered. They won’t pay, though, for access to what sits behind paywalls.
And that’s really what all this is about: media moguls flapping their arms in a state of panic because their precious news empires are at the brink of collapse.
The sooner that journalists are put back in charge, the better. Journalism isn’t a job that anyone does just for the hell of it. There are plenty of jobs that you can do with only one eye open, making it through the week just to live for the weekend. Journalism is not one of those. It’s a hard slog being a journalist; it’s really hard to be a good one. The businessmen that currently own the Fairfaxes, New Limiteds, and Dow Jones’ of the world don’t get this. They see declining profit and they fire quality journalists, because that’s the only perceived way to continue to make a living.
These journalists – the ones kicked out of the traditional newsroom and effectively onto the streets – are the future of journalism.
The sites are already out there. Huffington Post, Slate, Crikey, Gawker: all sites that offer strong, analytic news written by people who know what they’re talking about. People will invest in this kind of news, through programs like Kickstarter. If the Internet has proved absolutely nothing else, it’s that there are people who are willing to pay very good money for projects they believe in. Crowdfunding has emerged as an incredibly effective way of financing projects from films to videogames to books to technology, so why not news?
That’s the beauty of the Internet: people are willing to contribute what they can to make it (and, by proxy, the world) a better place. Look at open source software. Look at wikis. It goes against everything that capitalism has ever taught us, when people offer their skills – for free – to contribute to the greater good, be it new software, or knowledge, or whatever else.
Journalists won’t have to work for free because there will be crowdfunding. Journalists won’t have to work for free because advertisers will withdraw their money from old media and invest more in online news. The news that is produced will be high quality, because people value their reputation above all else. The argument that online news lacks quality just doesn’t fly.
Show me the quality in newspapers. Perth, Western Australia, is effectively a one paper town. The West Australian has Monday-Saturday editions, and The Sunday Times is, obviously, sold on Sundays.
Show me the hard news in The West.
Show me the hard news in The Sunday Times.
It’s wise in a city this small not to burn one’s bridges, but it’s laughable to look at those papers and then complain that quality journalism will die when the presses power down for the last time.
This is an exciting time to be writing. We know more about the world than ever before. We have greater opportunities for learning and connecting with people and teaching others than ever before. The youngest members of our society have been born into a world of information overload, and they’re going to want to do something to make it a better place. They’ll do that using their words.
Journalism isn’t dead. Long live journalism.