Technology and newspapers
The news industry has had a rough decade. Print readership is steadily declining, newspapers are closing, and journalists with decades of experience are being laid off.
In response, major newspapers have made considerable changes. They’re attempting to combat diminishing reader interest by shortening stories, adding commentary, and most notably, using social media to their advantage.
With the meteoric rise of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, many people have claimed that we are entering a new age in which news must be delivered in 140 characters or fewer. It seems as if the golden age of Woodward and Bernstein, Edward R. Murrow, and Walter Cronkite is long gone.
This, however, is an unfair assessment. In this new age of technology, newspapers aren’t sure of how best to respond to many of the challenges they face today. By experimenting with different methods of keeping readers interested, the news industry is working tirelessly to keep journalism alive.
“Thinking about the way people use the digital space [and] thinking about the way content functions in the digital space has been a challenge for the news industry because that’s not what they’re grounded in, ” said Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research for the Pew Research Center in an interview with the HPR.
Because they receive the majority of their profits from ads and subscriptions, some of the most distinguished newspapers have found themselves strapped for cash. In 2013, total revenue within the newspaper industry decreased by 2.6 percent, representing over a billion dollars in lost funds. As a result, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today have all experienced major losses, with each of the papers cutting anywhere from 20 to 100 newsroom jobs within the past five months. Often some of the most experienced reporters are the first to be laid off because they have the highest salaries.
Scott Bowles had been working for USA Today for 17 years when he found out that he was being laid off.
“My father who was a long time reporter and the reason I became a reporter [had] died, so I flew to Atlanta and I initiated his memorial. The layoff came two days after, ” Bowles said in an interview with the HPR. “It wasn’t intentional. Its just the cold climate journalism has become. It’s the grim reality of the business.”
From 2006 to 2012, the number of working journalists in the United States decreased by 17, 000, according to the Pew Research Center. This trend seems to be continuing; USA Today’s parent company, Gannet, laid off more than 200 staffers in August. Gannett has also instituted pay walls—an attempt to gain revenue by preventing Internet users from accessing content without a paid subscription. Despite these efforts, print revenues have continued to decline.
“There was no reason given other than they had to continue to cut costs in house, Bowles said. “You pretty much knew your age and your salary were working against you.
USA Today continues to hire but who they are hiring tends to be people right out of school, people who know social media.”
Revisiting the Role of Technology
Many newspapers have also been revising content in order to target a more specific—and generally younger—audience. The prevalent assumption has been that the general population wants their news delivered in bite sized packages and given the larger lack of editorial resources, the Associated Press, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal have all explicitly told their reporters to write shorter stories within the past year and a half.
“We were told to make stories shorter [and] pay attention to what is hot on social media, ” Bowles said. “We were writing about Justin Bieber in a way we never were before. We were covering things that only kids cared about and that was now driving news.”
News organizations have repeatedly dictated that the future of journalism is bleak. They attribute this to the continual dumbing down stories in order to interest a population with an ever-shrinking attention span. But in reality, the demand for in depth reporting remains the same. The only change is that innovation is the key for newspapers to remain relevant in today’s technologically savvy world. Though different audiences may have different preferences, the demand for in depth reporting remains the same.