Can words heal wounds? Can words stop a war? Can words bring justice? Can words make you laugh? Can words make you cry? Can words build a home? Can words put food on a dinner table?
When I came into college at Liberty University, I had already decided that I wanted to write or become a journalist. I declared my concentration on print and have never looked back on that decision. When I tell someone I am a journalism major, they raise their eyebrows in obvious perplexity or feign support. They give you this overall impression that you are heading towards an industry that has no future. Over the past recent years, I have heard the recurring phrases “The print industry is dying” or “journalism is dead.”
My response to these statements is that they are typical misconceptions of a long-lasting and much needed industry. However, given this current day and age of technology, I also understand why such statements have surfaced. Simply put, I agree the print industry is dying but it is reincarnating as something more powerful. As a result, journalists have been challenged to compete and satiate the demanding need for instant information.
Since the days of American independence, the newspaper revolutionized the way people communicate. It established a new relationship between the reader and writer. I believe the newspaper has always served as a voice or the watchdog within its community. For example, the famous ‘muckrakers’ who wrote compelling stories that brought down big industries and monopolies to proper regulation. Persistent journalists such as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein from the Washington Post sought out to seek the truth and forced Richard Nixon to resign as President. These stories or iconic writers elevated the status of print journalism.
People once emplaced a trust in the information they held in their hands. Newspapers were on the high, jobs were available and profit was on the ride. Unfortunately this is no longer the case. Since the days of online journalism, there is no doubt things have drastically changed. I have researched various online articles on the current status of newspapers and the first thing you will read about is the crippling amount of losses in revenue, the decreasing subscriptions and the troubling lay-offs. An example from the New Yorker in March 2008 states “until recently, newspapers were accustomed to operating as high-margin monopolies. To own the dominant or only, newspaper in a mid-sized American city was, for many decades, a kind of license to print money. In the Internet age, however, no one has figured out how to rescue the newspaper in the United States or abroad. Newspapers have created Web sites that benefit from the growth of online advertising, but the sums are not nearly enough to replace the loss in revenue from circulation and print ads,”
To make things worse, the magazine goes on to explain most newspaper owners go the length of budget cuts, bureau closings, buyouts and reductions in page size and column inches. According to columnist Molly Ivins, the newspaper companies’ solution to their problem is to make “our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.”
Overall, the dwindling number of Americans who buy and read a daily paper are spending less time with it. The average is down to less than fifteen hours a month. Only 19 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 claim even to look at a daily newspaper. The average age of the American newspaper reader is 55 and rising. I can’t even remember the last time I picked up a physical newspaper and read it cover to cover. I check everything online.
A passage from The Economist is not on the bright side of print journalism either. “Circulation has been falling in America, Western Europe, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand for decades but in the past few years the web has hastened the decline. In his book ‘The Vanishing Newspaper’, Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint dies in America as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition,”
Maybe this is some valid proof that the print industry is dying. So as a print journalism major, Shouldn’t I ask myself- is this the path of career I want to follow? I am very aware that the life of the average writer is not easy. There is the belief or stigma writers live a lonely and depressing life. They work long hours behind the desk and receive little pay desperately trying to make end meets. In an address to UC Berkeley journalism grads, prominent journalist Barbara Ehrenreich once said, “You won’t get rich, unless of course you develop a sideline in blackmail or bank robbery. You’ll be living some of the problems you report on – the struggle for health insurance, for child care, for affordable housing. You might never have a cleaning lady. In fact, you might be one.” She went on and told stories of her glory days of being paid $10 a word and working for Time magazine. Sadly, all that changed by 2005 when she became a meager freelance writer scrapping for work.
The funny thing is, despite all these statistics and tragic stories, I never have questioned myself or career choice. In fact, at this point and time I have never been more excited at the mere thought of being a writer or working for a news publication. The emergence of online journalism presents an exciting time for today’s aspiring journalist. Online journalism represents the face-lift for print. It’s no different from VHS tapes upgrading to DVDs. Owner of the Huffington Post Arianna Huffington could not put it any better, “People love to talk about the death of newspapers, as if it’s a foregone conclusion. I think that’s ridiculous,” she says. “Traditional media just need to realize that the online world isn’t the enemy. In fact, it’s the thing that will save them, if they fully embrace it.”
From my perspective, we should not be opposed to it. Online journalism means writers will be able to reach readers faster. With the assistance of technology news subscribers will be able to access articles with a click of a mouse or touch of an iPad. According to PC World Magazine, moving towards the online medium can beneficial. “The future of customized online subscriptions is already at the door. The Times itself introduced two innovative tools on its Web site that allow readers to share the articles they enjoy and, much like Google News, check out various sources for front-page stories. The services, called TimesPeople and TimesExtra, respectively, bring a Web 2.0 perspective to an antiquated industry and may help the Times when its advertising dollars run out.”
These are times we live in and we have to get with it. It is not a terrible thing. As I have said the print industry only served as a format and its successor is the Web. It is faster, stronger and better. Not only is the format changing but writers also have to adapt and become more versatile with online mediums and learn how to piece photography, video and illustrations with words as well. The decline of print does not mean I will be out of a job but that I have to work harder and re-brand myself in the midst of competition. In this day and age, there will always be a need for journalism because good journalism is useful and objective information that is beneficial for the public. The use of online media will serve as a platform for writers and work as a catalyst for the demand of information. Paraphrasing Ehrenreich, journalism as a profession does not mean you are a big shot. It means you are part of a working class.
“As long as there is a story to be told, an injustice to be exposed, a mystery to be solved, we will find a way to do it. A recession won’t stop us. A dying industry won’t stop us. Even poverty won’t stop us because we are all on a mission here. That’s the meaning of your journalism degree. Do not consider it a certificate promising some sort of entitlement. Consider it a license to fight,”