The detrimental cost of losing newspapers: Who pays the price?
Bethany Montgomery, Staff Writer
The world of media and news is constantly evolving from standardized newspapers, magazines, and other print publications to digital alternatives. However, this dramatic change that newspapers are facing is having larger negative effects than most organizations realize.
This switch is far from a seamless transition. According to the Washington Examiner, over the past decade, the transition to “new media” has resulted in the loss of over 33,000 newspaper jobs. Since major newspapers have moved online, new jobs catering to this service have materialized, but not enough to compensate for the loss of jobs from the former industry. According to Pew, “Among the largest digital-native outlets — those with a monthly average of at least 10 million unique visitors — 14 percent went through layoffs in 2018 and 20 percent did the year before. Nearly all the digital-native news outlets that laid off staff in 2017 or 2018 cut more than 10 employees.”
However, this is not just a result of news organizations shifting platforms for the sake of convenience. An additional report showed that American preferences for getting their news through both the paper and television have been steadily declining. Americans report that their primary source of news is social media, with the majority of those surveyed saying that their feed on platforms like Facebook and Twitter instigate their interest in reading the news.
According to the Washington Post, weekday prints have declined from 60 million in print in 1994, to a mere 35 million of both print and digital combined in 2018. In addition to the decline in jobs and print paper circulation, advertising companies saw a massive drop in revenue, falling from $65 billion in 2000 to below $19 billion in 2016. Despite the revenue created from online subscriptions and advertising, companies are failing to meet their projected revenue targets.
Several other countries have stepped in to stop a similar decline in their economy before its negative impacts become detrimental. While Britain has been warning citizens about the disappearance of their paper, in Canada, the government commissioned a special report to explain the dangers that losing newspapers would pose to democracy. In efforts to combat this change, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged $50 million in 2018 to “…support local news coverage and proposed legal changes that might help nonprofit news ventures to raise money.”
Canada’s two primary news companies, Postmedia and Torstar, have come close to bankruptcy, and have laid off employees and cut content to stay in business. In the last 10 years, 30 percent of all journalist jobs in Canada have been cut and ad revenue has dropped from almost $3 billion to less that $1.75 billion. Unsurprisingly, this rate is likely to result in both companies completely dissolving in the foreseeable future. This tragic fate would leave most of the nation’s major cities without a daily paper.With no way for digital media to compensate for these losses, these cities would certainly be less likely to receive coverage on local, focused news stories.
Without the traditional model of a newspaper, the spreading of “news” becomes a non-stop flow of information without need to credit sources or pursue accurate, first-hand stories. Journalists are less likely to take on difficult or challenging stories if these articles are lost in a sea of far less credible stories receiving equal attention but requiring less work. This sudden shift to solely moving online is also predicted to have a negative impact on digital news as well. While the variety and ease of access of online news sites is certainly a benefit of online magazines and newspapers, a government-commissioned report states that many digital sites will quickly become obsolete, describing that,
“The bifurcation of [news] production and distribution, with financial returns heavily skewed to the latter. Moreover, the Internet … has quickly come to be dominated by a pair of global giants from Silicon Valley — Google and Facebook — that are not only lacking in passion for news, but actively avoiding the responsibilities of a publisher.”
American skepticism of news has also increased in the past several years with the recent increase of “fake news.” Americans are skeptical of their current new sources, but are unaware of what will happen without them. Newspapers, more specifically local papers, have reflected culture, attitude, and priorities of the people they represent. This impact cannot be reflected the same way in digital form. Even historically, newspapers have been seen as a fundamental part of democratic institutions. As the late Thomas Jefferson said, “This formidable censor of the public functionaries, by arraigning them at the tribunal of public opinion, produces reform peaceably, which must otherwise be done by revolution.”