The Decline Of Newsprint

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 19, 2009 Ed Cartoon

For years now, an excess of articles have been written about the death of the newspaper. But with a weakened economy, the long-suffering print media industry may reach its end sooner than anticipated.

One of the obvious side-effects of a poor economy is downsizing, and because the majority of major newspapers remain part of a much larger corporate monolith, it is inevitable newsrooms will be smaller as a result.

On a local scale, smaller newsrooms will result in less focus for reporters. Fewer reporters will have their ears to the ground for scoops and the end product will have highly selective coverage.

Similarly, if management is going to choose to cut costs it will likely go after one of the least efficient and most expensive sections: investigative journalism. Because long-term investigations can take months to pan out, it can be hard to justify its existence. But one need only look at influential acts of journalism of the 20th century to see investigative journalism’s value. From the Pentagon Papers to the Watergate Scandal, the “fourth branch” of government has demonstrated an ability to act as a positive force.

Finally, if one were to look at a worst-case scenario, when a national conglomerate decides to drop a financially unviable local paper, or at least severely cut back its operations, grievous harm can result.

Take the example of the London Free Press. At one time the Free Press covered a wide variety of local events; after Sun Media’s takeover, local coverage fell apart as the paper filled with more wire stories and syndicated columnists.

Worse still is an undermined ability to hold municipal governments accountable. London is large enough to support a paper who can check up on City Council, but many other cities might lose this valuable oversight.

The future of print media is not all doom and gloom. While national papers may have to duke it out for supremacy, some of the smaller rural markets are so concentrated in terms of audience they are unlikely to be affected.

One must not overlook the growing presence of online content for newspapers. Although there are still great strides to be made in changing online advertising to make it more effective and profitable, it is only a matter of time before online advertising’s full potential is exploited.

Like many other industries, print media is at a crossroads. Harsh economic times paired with a changing audience demographic will ensure the next decade will be one of uncertainty for newspapers. The 150 year-old Rocky Mountain News was not the first and will not be the last of the great newspapers to fall, but the surviving publications will be facing a new and exciting future.

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