The future is here and it is fast…
The sound of the coffee grinder was the first thing I heard through my closed door, then shuffling feet across a wood floor,
the gurgling of the coffee machine before it let of its high-pitched beeeeep and always, the crinkling of a newspaper as it was open and shut.
Between 7:30 a.m. and about 6 p.m., the newspaper remained on the dining room table, usually strewn about in pieces with the sports section on top.
Those relaxed early-morning hours seem hard to come by today, as I’m usually flying out of the door with my shoes untied and a piece of toast clamped between my teeth. My news is digested similarly, in small frantic pieces, in between red lights and bathroom breaks. I know there are many who still hang onto the days of the printed newspaper at the breakfast table, in all its coffee-stained glory. But the future is here, and it is fast.
I didn’t anticipate this future when I decided this career path.
One of my first introductory journalism courses in college had the class writing obituaries. This was in 2008, but it may as well have been in 1958. It would have been good practice for a fledgling news reporter before the internet was invented. But today, there is no room for an obituary writer. Obituaries, wedding announcements and the like hve been shoved onto the public as the role of the news reporter stretches ever so thin.
Driving this race to the bottom is the staggering speed of communication technology.
I don’t have to tell you this. It is evident everywhere.
Newspapers are lagging behind, unfortunately.
Subscriptions, especially digital subscriptions, have been booming for some of the largest newspapers in the United States, according to Pew Research. But that does not account for the vast majority of daily newspapers around the country.
Daily newspaper circulation has been on the decline for the past 28 years, after reaching its zenith of about 63 million weekday subscribers in 1989 (incidentally, the same year I was born – coincidence?).
Though The West Side Journal is not a daily, our business model still follows the trends of the industry at large. And they’re not great.
Industry-wide ad revenue was at $18 billion last year, which is just one-third of what it was only 10 years ago ($49 billion). Other sources say industry-wide revenue was as high as $60 billion in 2000.
Fortunately, a large portion of The West Side Journal’s advertisers are government bodies that are required to purchase ad space in the newspaper. I can’t emphasize the importance of this advertising revenue enough. Not only does it provide a third-party record of the accounts in town hall, it also keeps a vital part of the West Side culture and history alive – i.e. the printed newspaper.
Some day it might happen, though. The “paper” may eventually become a web-only publication. The old printer in the back of the Journal’s office will likely be mistaken for a piece of farm equipment.
There is some good news though. Online readership is going up. The Journal’s readership has increased pretty dramatically online in recent years. It seems that people still want to read stories about their community, but, like me, they probably don’t have time to linger over the newspaper in the morning.
Personally, I don’t think the newspaper will ever phase out. A printed headline in your hands makes a bigger impact than the tiny one you might read on your phone or computer. Similarly, people will always want to know what’s going on in their towns. Citizen reporting and social media are great, but that kind of news doesn’t stick the way a newspaper report does. Additionally, the newspaper on the breakfast table gives one a certain feeling belonging that is hard to come by without a subscription.
Yes, it’s changing. But so is everything.
My only worry is that as we shift to a more digital landscape, we are leaving something valuable behind us. I’m not sure if it’s the memories of a bygone print era, or maybe something more practical.
After five episodes of ranting and raving, I will leave you with a few final remarks.
Support journalism, small and large.
Subscribe to real newspapers.
Read them online and in print.
Trust the instincts of reporters and editors at these newspapers.
Be thankful for the First Amendment.