Death Of The Newspaper

Posted: June 17, 2012 in Current Events
Tags: , ,

I believe it’s been pretty much accepted that the newspaper is going to eventually die as a medium.  But actual evidence of that is finally hitting here locally with the announcement that starting in the fall The Birmingham News will no longer print a daily version of its paper.  Instead it’s going to cut back to printing on only 3 days while supposedly enhancing its online version.

On the one hand, there isn’t anything that inherently makes this a bad thing.  True, not everyone has a computer, so accessibility could initially be a problem.  But more and more people are either getting computers or do have access to computers through their local library.  So it’s not hard to imagine that sometime soon pretty much everyone that wanted to read local news could do so online.  And certainly anything that can be printed on paper can also be printed online.  Heck, if a website is half way well designed, an online version should be more enhanced than a print version, with links pointing to potential other related articles of interest just a click away.

But while online journalism should have a lot of potential, there are a couple of reasons for concern.  First, the motivation behind this move, at least here, is clearly cost cutting.  So yes, you can produce a very vibrant news source online, but you still need to pay a staff to produce the content.  The other issue is that newspapers haven’t figured out a good way to monetize their online product, and the system that has been produced awards sensational TMZ style reporting that generates massive amounts of traffic over reporting of substance.  Granted, much of this is the newspapers’ own fault for stubbornly not embracing the internet and believing newspapers would last forever.  Still, it will be communities that suffer if local journalism totally dies.

In Birmingham, this fear is coming to fruition, with the announcement that the Birmingham reporting staff is going to be cut by 60%.  It’s hard to see how the online version is going to be enhanced when you have so few people to produce content.  Goodness knows Birmingham and Jefferson County has needed reporters to keep their eyes on our politicians over the last decade, and their job just got a lot harder, if not impossible.  Reporting serves an important function in our democracy.  Without an effective watchdog, I’m afraid of what the people in power might be able to get away with in the future.  It doesn’t help to alleviate my fears to hear that those who remain are getting titles such as “Local Buzz Reporter” and “Business Buzz Reporter” that sounds a lot more like TMZ than journalism to me.

In October, Birmingham is going to have a news media void.  It will be interesting to see when (and if) this void will be filled.

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