New media isn’t killing journalism; it’s helping it adapt
The first known newspaper was a German publication, Relation, founded in 1609 by distinguished intellectual Johan Carolus. He bought a printing press, secured an office, and started producing periodicals. Since Carolus’s ingenious endeavour, the world of journalism has experienced seismic shifts, while also managing to preserve its integrity and fulfill its societal role; to inform, to investigate, and to enrich.
Finley Peter Dunne once said that the role of journalism is to, “afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted.” Indeed, journalism not only serves a political and historical purpose, but a moral one as well. A well-informed public is a key part of any functioning democracy. Max Weber agreed, claiming in his famous speech, Politics as a Vocation, that “it is almost never acknowledged that the responsibility of the journalist… is far greater than that of the scholar.”
However, journalism’s reputation has been damaged by a score of sensationalist, budget-news publications. Sites like Buzzfeed and Narcity try to appeal to younger people, churning out relatable posts, click-bait lists (like “14 Insanely Talented Athletes Who Are Currently In Jail”) and a wealth of other cringeworthy material. This abrupt switch from traditional news to attention-grabbing blurbs has rattled old stock journalists, and led many to believe that the industry is dying.
Dave Yin, in a rather gloomy piece for the Huffington Post, writes that journalism is not dying, but being murdered. He asserts that because technological advancements have made journalism ubiquitous and subsequently free, readers regard it as worthless. Although dramatic, Yin makes a good point. Journalism is not dying out because of natural causes per se, but is rather being targeted and taken out by something else.
This is not a murder, though. Traditional journalism is experiencing “creative destruction.” Economist Joseph Schumpeter coined this phrase, theorizing that new, innovative developments replace old, inefficient ones, generating profits for the winners, improving living standards for all, and destroying less productive methods.
Similar developments appear annually. A contemporary example is taxis vs. Uber. The app uses technological advances to create a more efficient system and more profitable company, leaving yellow cabs in the dust while simultaneously lowering costs of consumption and raising transportation standards
The homicide—to continue Yin’s metaphorical pattern—of dead-tree journalism by new-age media sites is a similar case. Social media sites, which are expected to eclipse three billion users by 2020, are facilitating widespread information consumption. For example, Snapchat has partnered with various companies, including Buzzfeed, Vogue, CNN, and even The Economist. The thinking follows naturally: why pick up a copy of the New York Times for $3.25 when you can get the same information for free via Twitter?
Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. New age media sites circumvent some of journalism’s oldest problems. For instance, instead of waiting until morning for a print newspaper, people can receive news on an instant and constant basis. They do not have to seek out a newspaper stand, and are instead able to read from the comfort of their own home, workplace, gym, etc. Furthermore, the increasingly lower prices and higher availability of news empowers demographics that were traditionally unable to spend money on newspapers and magazine subscriptions. These advantages arguably lead to a more aware, better informed public.
Saying journalism is dead is incorrect. It’s indisputable that there are fewer jobs, but to say that journalism is dead is misleading—it is simply adapting. The bedrock of journalism—informing, investigating, enriching—is as strong as ever. The ubiquity of news today supports that. There is still a demand for responsible, reflective writing. It is just taking an alternate route.