Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Truth and Resurrection

By Megan Taylor

Newspapers everywhere are dying.

Mass extinction has threatened their medium for some time, and those that live on may only do so by way of evolution into something else entirely. What will someday be classified as a “newspaper” may, by journalistic standards, be a “publication” at best.

It is widely speculated that dinosaurs died off as the result of some cataclysmic meteorite crash into the earth. Just like scientists argued over the cause of mass extinction, analysts have their different theories about what ails the newspaper industry today.

Most often, we hear the Internet threatens to dissolve print media. News done a la Internet is instantaneous. Readers can follow a story as it develops, and, for the most part, it’s free. Advertisers may no longer think about things like circulation when considering their best resource, but rather about Web hits, which typically outrank the circulation of even the best of pubs.

Threat initiated by the latest technological advancement is nothing new. Imagine the fear newspaper publishers must have felt when television producers began providing viewers with live news coverage. But newspapers have proven that they can ride out change, and this should again be the case as papers contend with the Internet. When marketed properly, a Web edition of a newspaper can help bring in more revenue and garner more exposure world wide. Many pubs use the Internet to build readership and promote their print editions. Indeed, the World Wide Web is not what afflicts newspapers today.

If newspapers (increasingly viewed as archaic and dated) are the dinosaurs, then greedy corporate America’s mismanagement, and not the Internet, will be the meteor directly linked to their demise.

In corporate culture, making money is more important than serving the public. Pressed by a limping economy (which gains its crippled status through the greed of other corporate enterprises), newspapers have seen a significant drop in revenue generated through advertising. Couple that with increasing print costs, and newspapers executives everywhere feel the pressure to crunch numbers.

Thus, the newspapers let accountant types and advertising clods run the show instead of editors. Devoid of all passion for truth and journalistic integrity, these number crunchers make cuts in the most illogical places while spending more money trying to sell ads. They can hire more people to sell, but if the product is compromised, who will want to buy it? It’s true a newspaper also is a business, but it can’t be run like any other business, because it is not.

In these cases, upper management seems to forget that in order to maintain or increase revenue, a desirable product must first be established. When the product is no longer desirable, sales go down. A newspaper is like a garden and the editorial staff cultivates a marketable product. The fewer gardeners tending to it, the more weeds. Weeds are things like national news filler or national photos where interesting local stories used to flourish.

Back to the dinosaur analogy, let’s look at the evolved “newspaper” of tomorrow. Because of the pursuit of the almighty dollar, advertising executives now exert all influence over the editorial board. Truth is buried because it may offend one particular advertiser. “News” now becomes stories suggested by the ad execs about things like new products sold by a participating advertiser or a business’s 11th anniversary. The newspaper is no longer a force for accountability, but a white elephant advertising-for-editorial swap meet.

The new creature dragging itself out of the muck bears the semblance of its former self. But underneath its skin it harbors a fatal flaw. It will only be a matter of time before it is picked off by something stronger and better equipped to stand the test of time.

Let’s hope whatever survives has the pursuit of truth in mind. That and that alone will ensure the newspaper's survival.

Megan Taylor is the former staff writer for The Town Meeting, a weekly newspaper of Elk Rapids, Michigan, which closed its doors on January 23, 2009 after more than 30 years of business.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Powerful and spot on. Unfortunately, what is "printed" on the internet, even by non-reputable publications is taken as gospel truth in many cases.