This month, over at Texas Monthly, the magazine, they’re celebrating their thirty-fifth anniversary. Congratulations, print people. Drink up. Because pretty soon, the entire editorial department will be forced into “early retirement,” and I’ll be the last one standing. (I’ve been waiting for Evan Smith’s corner office for far too long.)
Print is dead, as anyone can tell you. Look around. Wired caffeine addicts at Starbucks aren’t dirtying their hands with those smudgy old black and white newspapers. They’re reading the news on their laptops and BlackBerrys. I’m beginning to think we should place all Texas print publications behind glass, and showcase them in the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum.
Why would you buy a magazine or (God forbid) a newspaper when you can get everything you could possibly want for free online? I swore off print publications years ago, after realizing that they didn’t offer video.
Reporters and pundits have lamented the demise of print journalism, which is to say, “real journalism,” for years. In fact, traditional journalists (you know, the ones wearing the fedora “Scoop” hats and eating day-old donuts) spend more time bemoaning what they see as the dismal future of media than attempting to pull out of the tailspin.
In March 2005, a well-respected veteran journalist wrote this: “About a year ago, we thought about establishing blogs for our writers…But we decided against becoming bloggers, because we couldn’t guarantee that our postings would live up to the magazine’s standards…We ourselves might distinguish between our writing in the magazine and our blogs, but our readers wouldn’t. In the end, we decided that blogging wasn’t worth it.”
That was Paul Burka of the well-read Burkablog (oh—and senior executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine). You can’t fault Burka for coming late to the party; but now that he’s made the jump, he’s become quite the party animal. His initial hesitation (some might say squeamishness) raises some very critical questions concerning the increasingly fluid definition of journalist. Are bloggers journalists? Should journalists blog? What is a blogger, and do any of them ever leave their homes?
According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, roughly a quarter of Americans rely on the Internet as their main news source. This audience tends to be better educated, younger, and suspicious of the mainstream media. In fact, close to forty percent of consumers express unfavorable opinions of cable news networks and national newspapers, lending some additional validity and credibility to the idea of bloggers as journalists.
This is not to say that our friends on the print side aren’t trying to move forward. Much like sharks, traditional journalists have to keep moving in order to breathe and stay alive. Unlike sharks, however, reporters have failed to sense the blood in the water. Still, a report from the Bivings Group, a Washington D.C.-based Internet communications firm, found that ninety-five percent of the top 100 U.S. newspapers offer reporter blogs, ninety-three percent open blogs up to comments, and ninety-two percent incorporate video into their Web sites.
The fact is that embracing new media and creating dynamic and interactive content has become an absolute necessity for major print publications (thank God, or I wouldn’t have a job). Last November, the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported that circulation for more than 500 daily newspapers fell 2.6 percent. And you don’t need to look outside of Texas to see the impact that declining circulation has on a newspaper.
The Dallas Morning News saw its average weekday circulation drop 7.7 percent in 2007—from 404,652 to 373,586. In April 2006, the Morning News halted distribution to most areas outside a 200-mile radius. Last year, it was reduced to just a 100-mile radius, prompting the disenfranchised 12-year-old paper boys to form a powerful labor union and picket outside the newsroom.
Publisher and chief executive James M. Moroney III told the New York Times that it simply became too expensive to distribute further outside of the Dallas metro area, and that “the people who really want to read The Dallas Morning News can still get it online.” Let them eat Internet!
To be fair, the newspaper continues to have one of the twenty largest paid circulations in the country. Throughout the 1990s, they won numerous Pulitzers for reporting. But the market is relentless and a few years later, the paper got in trouble for fudging the numbers. In 2004, the Morning News inflated its circulation figures by approximately five percent on weekdays, and twelve percent on Sundays. In October of 2004, the newspaper laid off sixty-six newsroom staffers, a little over ten percent of the paper’s journalists.
Even those who kept their jobs, like Karen Brooks, found their beats changing a bit. A Capitol bureau reporter, Brooks now covers online politics and new media as well. She has been a newspaper reporter for thirteen years, and has worked at the Morning News for three-and-a-half years.
When asked whether she thinks print is on its way out, Brooks responded, “Unfortunately, I do—eventually, anyway. I don’t like it, and I don’t like to admit it.
“I’ve been in the newspaper business for so long,” she continued. “I was refusing to admit it was changing. But, I don’t feel like [the Internet] is killing journalism.”
Brooks contributes to the Morning News’s political blog, “Trail Blazers,” where she’s free to be sarcastic and edgy, which is to say, free to be a blogger.
But let’s be honest. It doesn’t really matter what Karen Brooks thinks. Or what I think. Or what anyone over thirty thinks. Like many of my colleagues, I’m a washed-up has-been. As so-called “digital immigrants” (those who grew up in a world where you filled out your college applications on a typewriter), there’s only so much we can do to help shape the future of media.
“Digital natives,” on the other hand, were born around 1985, when personal computers were already ten years old. They have never known a world without the Internet (lucky bastards). They are adept multimedia producers and certified gadgetophiles who create content as much as they consume it, if not more. Avid newspaper readers, they are not. In fact, younger readers view the corporate-owned mainstream media with disgust, if not outright contempt.
But I can’t speak for them, mostly because I don’t understand their language, which is transferred through text messages and seems to consist entirely of acronyms. As for me, I like the autonomy and accessibility of online news. I like that I can get information from an array of different sources. I like watching video and downloading podcasts and perusing the self-absorbed rantings on blogs (mine included). I like posting comments and interacting with shadowy, anonymous figures. And I especially like the fact that you can do all this at your job and still look like you’re working.
Try doing that with a newspaper.