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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sad times for journalism

Published: March 6, 2009
Section: Opinions

<i>PHOTO from internet source</i>

PHOTO from internet source

Newspapers across the country are suffering. The combination of an ailing economy and the presence of the internet has resulted in drastically reduced revenues, and has forced many papers to close.

The Rocky Mountain News in Denver is one of the latest and most well known newspapers to shut down due to financial trouble. The Rocky published its final edition on Feb. 27, after the company that owned the paper made the decision to close it. Not surprisingly, the closing of the Rocky has caused a stir among Denver residents. The paper was just shy of reaching its 150th anniversary, making it the oldest in Colorado.

The sad truth is that print newspapers can’t compete with internet sites that offer news at little or no cost. I don’t condemn technology or dispute that the internet provides many useful and unique services. Nevertheless, I believe the world has lost, and continues to lose, something valuable during the digital age: personal communication.

Today, instead of sending letters, we send e-mails. Instead of sitting down and reading a favorite newspaper, we are more likely to view one on the web. Instead of clipping out our favorite story, we bookmark the webpage on which we find it. Call me old-fashioned, but I like retrieving the local paper from the doorstep at home, or picking one up at the Shapiro Campus Center on my way to class. I like the feeling of the newsprint in my hands, flipping through pages to follow a story, and the ink that rubs onto my fingertips in the process.

Print newspapers are more closely connected with their readers than online news sites. At least for now, most online newspapers (if it makes sense to call them that) are free. By contrast, print newspapers require a subscription or must be purchased at a newsstand. Subscribing to a newspaper is a matter of loyalty. When a person subscribes to a paper they place their trust in it. In exchange for money, you receive your own copies. Internet sites are different. Instead of purchasing a copy of your own, you get news for free from a website that thousands of people may be viewing at the same time. It simply isn’t the same.

Perhaps all of this doesn’t bother you. Perhaps you think that news on the internet is just as good as news on paper. To some degree you are right, but there is still cause for concern. First of all, even newspapers with both print and online components are in danger. The Rocky Mountain News had a highly professional, regularly updated website. (In fact, it’s still up. I encourage you to take a look.) Even with the revenue brought in by online advertising, clearly, having a professional online news site is no guarantee of success.

My second concern is that readers searching the internet for news may turn to unreliable, subjective sources. Anyone can make a website and be a reporter. In the age of the internet, the line between factual news and personal opinion is not always observed. Online news stories are often followed by hundreds of comments from readers. Blogs and podcasts infuse news with someone’s feelings about events. These more interactive, less objective “news” features are troublesome. Faux journalism can never stand as a substitute for the real thing.

Finally, online newspapers may sacrifice quality in order to be the first to break a story. Speedy communication is very important, but it could come at the expense of the kind of in-depth reporting that we expect from our news sources. Just think about what happens on major television news networks when they report a story as it is unfolding. They repeat the same three or four facts over and over without revealing any new details. When the news anchor, who is supposed to be informing us, doesn’t understand the images that are projected on the TV screen, the news coverage is not very helpful. Online news sites may face the same problem if speed, not accuracy, is their aim.

Given all these concerns, it is reasonable to ask if there is a way to salvage print journalism. Sadly, I don’t think so. The internet is here to stay and the poor economy is forcing newspapers either to adapt or to shut down. Expect more closings in the months and years ahead.

It is the hope of everyone involved with a newspaper that their contributions mean something to the paper’s readers. A newspaper writer seeks to inform, inspire, and affect other people. When a newspaper closes, its staff may feel as if they are no longer wanted or needed. Keep this in mind: You may not miss a newspaper until it’s gone, but you’ll probably miss it. The loss of print newspapers isn’t the end of the world or even the end of the news, but it is the end of a particular kind of news. We should all be concerned about the industry’s future.