The disappearance of quality media

Their own fault?

21 NOVEMBER 2016,
The future of media?
The future of media?

Journalism is in crisis. The writers, editors, teachers and journalists of today are frightened of the future. And who can blame them? The future is not very bright for people that love to write and read and make their money from writing quality articles. Young people nowadays do not read all that much anymore. This means that soon there will be a lot less books sold and a lot less newspapers needed. The young people of today are the ones that will have to teach their kids the joy of reading so this form of media can live on, well into the future. But today quality, print media is dying a slow death. The business is in a steady decline towards complete and utter destruction.

But this process has not stopped people from reading altogether or consuming their daily news in other ways. People still read, but they do it on their phones, desktops and tablets. There they consume their daily news, background stories, interviews, books, movie reviews, articles etc. The difference is: they rarely pay for them.

Having been around for some time and knowing how it used to be, it seems that journalism now is not really a respected profession anymore because people can not be tempted to pay for that which they read. So much of the news and background stories people read now they do on social media, so they do not need to pay for them. The diversity of news outlets is therefore not as large as it used to be. And because people only read the news and share the articles they are not required to pay for, they receive only a certain range of opinions. These opinions are not always very well-thought-out and can be of the extreme. In the end this is all young people read, are influenced by and what shapes their opinion of the world. If they read at all.

How has it come to this? Why has quality, print media been set aside by so many people to the point of being ignored? Young people nowadays will find it hard to find a friend with a newspaper subscription.

This process has two causes. Firstly, print media has in the end not been able to offer the objective news that people deserve. Secondly, print news has, certainly in the beginning, not been able to adapt fully to the new world of digital.

Opinionated news by opinionated people

Before the advent of social media and its superficiality there existed an abundance of magazines with opinion pages and columns. You would be able to find magazines or newspapers catering to any political view. There was something for everyone. But you could also find those that sought the middle ground. These wanted to bring quality without the petty lies and with objective background information to the daily news. Behind these newspaper and magazine desks sat people, journalists. Journalists of a different breed, for they wrote about world events, politics and religion while not letting their own views get up in the mix. This is a hard thing to ask of people, especially today. It demands integrity and professionalism. You set aside your opinions because you know that when they come forth they get edited out and readers do not like to read about them. You respect your reader base to form their own opinions and that they are smart enough to do so. Readers could be sure that when they bought these magazines and newspapers they would be able to trust what was inside. They could be sure to read quality articles, devoid of anyone’s opinion.

Somewhere along the way that changed. The editors were not running a ship as tight as they used to, because here and there the personal opinions of journalists started to shine through in news and articles. It could have been a decision from high up the food chain, to take sides in certain situations: you started seeing one side of a story getting a lot of coverage, but not the other side. This means you were missing out on a lot of information and were not getting the full picture. The news started to lose its objectivity. The newspapers and magazines on the right and left side of the political spectrum already existed, but now the so-called middle ground media had started taking sides too. The readers they had were left with print media that were trying to force upon them an opinion they never asked for. Right around this time ‘digital’ was taking off and people were turning to their smartphones and tablets. The need to get their news off print disappeared, because they already carried it in their pockets every day.

Was print media able to catch up? Initially no. They had not figured out a way to market their product, the news, to their customers online. And they were not able to convince new and younger readers that their background on the news was any better than anything that could be found online. Readers thought that if they wanted one side of a story, they could turn to the internet. Enough opinionated people, websites and pages on there. If they wanted one range of opinions, a set of the same political views, they could follow a few people online known for these. After a while, there was no turning back.

How to get people that have walked away from your news outlet to return? A very hard thing to do. These people most likely made a decision to stop reading because they found there to be a lack of quality, or they had other reasons.

The culture in newsrooms was most likely not helping to turn this sinking ship around. When you have a lot of opinionated people working together that all share the same opinions, who is brave enough to set them straight? Quality suffers too. The reader base will start to realize that news is highly likely brought in a certain manner to please a certain type of reader and will not always have all elements of truth. Around the same time that people stop paying for print media, the jobs available to journalists become scarce. The profession suffers and what also suffers is the respect people have for journalists and journalism. Now they are seen as an opinionated bunch not able to let good judgment get in their way, lacking in integrity and professionalism and most likely unemployed.

The future

The future of print media is very bleak. Only real, true quality will survive, supported by advertising. Think of the Economist. The rest will disappear or will be swallowed up by social media news channels like Vice or the stories will be integrated into magazines for truckers next to pictures of semi dressed women. As a person studying journalism the only chance you have left is if you study all there is to know about digital and how to write clickbait. Otherwise writing will be just a hobby.