There has been much noise made about the shrinking circulation of printed newspapers and how the role of journalists will survive in this online age. Many people give it a moments thought and continue with their daily lives, thinking it doesn't really apply to them. Yet if they would take a moment to think about it, they may see how the limited future of journalists could eventually result in the loss of a number of their freedoms.
The Future of News
We re-elect dishonest politicians quite regularly. Many of the people who vote for them don't know what they have done in any great detail. And in this age of Enron and the like, such transgressions have become mere human frailties we're willing to overlook.
But people really should be concerned with the future of our news, online or otherwise. While I may not be a huge Rupert Murdoch fan and think some of his ideas are anachronistic, I share his concerns. The web has given people the belief that they shouldn't pay for information.
Hey, Google is there for us to search and find what we really want to know, they even have a news tab up there on the right if we want to drill a little deeper in to an article we saw briefly as we surfed the endless cable TV stations we watch in the background as we Twitter or Facebook or play online games.
We live in the world Alvin Toffler wrote about in "Future Shock" more than 40 years ago. We're bombarded by information, with too many choices to make. So we segment, settle for shorter or more niched information, and forget about the basics we all as citizens of the world or a specific country need to keep up with to be truly involved with our "worlds."
How many people in the United States really understand what the Tea Party stands for? How many heard President Obama's speech the other day where it appeared he was calling on African Americans to take control of their destinies in an almost rise up and revolt tone reminiscent of the Black Panthers of old?
The reach of the ideologies of both of these opposed positions is lost in the noise of the banal items we must wade through to get to stories of worth.
This isn't the fault just of our modern technological, distraction filled lives. Economic factors also need to be considered.
What Would Journalists Do?
The days of community newspapers is rapidly coming to an end. Well, at least the independent news gatherers of yore.
I'll be surprised if the journalism degree is even offered in 20 years. Where are reporters supposed to get their experience? Blogging? Writing press releases for various companies or politicians? Or maybe aggregating stories from the few remaining mainstream sources of news?
That last one I truly doubt. I recently interviewed for a position doing search engine optimization (SEO) for Reuters -- one of the historical bastions of reporting. During the interview, I was told the company really didn't care about the numerous areas of news beyond those that appeal to their core demographic: men who pay for their financial information.
Reuters didn't have plans to concentrate on areas that didn't appeal to this demographic (e.g., social news, entertainment news, and even hard news) moving forward. The founders of this 200-year-old company must want to shoot lightening bolts from the heavens.
Somebody Check My Brain
This dilution of what is actually covered is where we risk our freedom. People with influence can control what we get to see. The guilds and unions that have fought to keep the Fourth Estate alive have lost their power and we really don't seem to care.
And it is here that the voices of both the Tea Party and Obama's recent call to arms have true merit. Whatever your political alignment, there is a need to be aware of their meanings.
The World Wide Web isn't a savior. It needs us to interact with it thinkingly.
Would you pay for your online news? Current trends do not seem to support this idea.
Interestingly, a local Hawaiian online paper that regularly charges it readers $20 a month allowed readers free access to the stories about politics to foster better informed citizenry. The broadcast television stations used to do the same thing until happy talk showed greater viewers and caught more advertising dollars.
True, there are alternative monetization models. Online advertising success can be tracked so well and so granularly. Unfortunately this isn't truly understood by the people who run major news sources.
As newspapers watch the primary source of their income rapidly dwindling, their panic doesn't give them clear insight. The new media seem like upstarts -- and they are.
Although newspapers were rocked by radio and television and survived, the new media is different. Many viewed it for far too long as just another medium they would slowly adapt to. Unfortunately, this is the one that will replace them, replace their form.
Kindles and iPads and all sorts of new distribution methods yet invented will take down the printed word. The printed word -- if people in the right places, including the world's citizenry allow it -- but not the word.
I hope there are always careers for writers who want to research and communicate to us the wrongs and ills and counter viewpoints we so need. I will never rely on 140 characters to tell me all about my world. But I will take tips and recommendations from the medium on what I should find out more about and see things from others perspectives.
Hopefully, as printed newspapers disappear, reporters, publishing companies and the general public continue to appreciate the need for independent writers.