June 21, 2024

Local community newspapers are toppling like dominoes. Misinformation, disinformation, and fake news are spreading like a plague. 

Is the journalism industry on its last legs?

As a brand new journalist without a crystal ball, I don’t have definite answers. But I do have fears, hopes, and access to a plethora of ponderings from experts. 

Journalism is a craft that has stood the test of time, with the first known journalist dating back 2,500 years to ancient Greece, where Thucydides paved the way with accurate, objective, and thorough reporting of a brutal and chaotic war.  

Today, people still turn to journalists during dark times for reliable information about society’s struggles. 

People also turn to journalists to learn about lighter news – those high school athletes who won gold at Nationals, that local veteran celebrating her 103rd birthday. I am hopeful that in fifteen years journalism will involve more of these feel good stories that uplift communities. 

As a reporter for a local rural newspaper, I write about regular people making an impact in their communities. One of the things that has surprised me about my work is the volume of feedback I receive regarding the newspaper’s impact.

In Wellington County, I know people care about local news. People go out of their way to make sure I know how much they care. The newspaper is part of the fabric of community, it brings people together to celebrate the good times and commiserate the bad. 

A reader recently reminded me that for some, the Wellington Advertiser is their primary connection to community. “Some of the older farmers aren’t on the internet at all,” she said, “so that newspaper dropped on the end of their driveways means the world to them.” 

Community newspapers have been distributed for hundreds of years. But hundreds of years ago, there was no internet people could turn to. Today, the number of people not on the internet is dwindling rapidly and that small percentile cannot be the sole reason for newspapers to continue to print. 

I fear that as the population ages, print newspapers could become obsolete. In fifteen years, I doubt there will be many people left not getting at least some of their news online. 

I am hopeful that as society continues to spend more time online, people will turn to newspapers as a way to slow down and get away from their screens. 

Publishing and distributing a newspaper is expensive, and it has a significant environmental impact too, with the paper it’s printed on and the gas burned to deliver it. The environmental impact leads me to wonder – is my hope for the continuation of printed newspapers sustainable? Or is it selfish? 

I fear that in 15 years the newspaper will be gone and more people will consume “news” shared by internet content creators instead of trained journalists. I fear that misinformation, disinformation, and fake news will become more accessible and more appealing than quality journalism. I fear the truth will become a mystery read only by those wealthy academics still subscribing to paid platforms like the Globe and Mail. 

If newspapers don’t all fold, I fear they will get by with such little funding that the quality of journalism will deteriorate. Reporters writing too many stories without enough resources or time do not produce quality journalism. I worry the industry would be better off without newspapers than with newspapers written by understaffed teams of overworked reporters. 

I fear that to secure more funding newspapers will become overrun with advertisements or will all be bought out by billionaires with too much power over what is reported. 

I hope that instead, quality journalism will remain relevant by keeping up with the times. We are already doing so, with reputable news organizations creating content for trending platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram. 

Within 15 years I expect these platforms will be a thing of the past. However I am hopeful (and dare-I-say confident?) that the industry will adapt. Journalists are creative people trained to think on our feet, and we’ve already shown there are far more ways to tell the news than solely writing a traditional newspaper article.

During a panel about the future of news, Donna Britt, an esteemed columnist at the Washington Post, said “in some ways the modern news organization like the LA Times is better than anything that came before it. There are more offerings, there’s more diversity, there’s more points of access, it’s just bigger and more vibrant than the newspapers that I loved and worked for could ever be….wonderful enough that it deserves more attention, it deserves more subscriptions, it deserves more trust.”

I’m hopeful journalists will continue to create interesting, entertaining, and reliable news and people will recognize its superiority over misinformation, disinformation, and fake news.

I am hopeful that to combat the misinformation, disinformation, and fake news online more journalists will write investigative articles that dismantle that by shedding light on hidden truths. I am also hopeful there will be more solutions journalism to help solve societal problems. 

During the panel Britt noted one important offering from print newspapers that is missed with online news. While browsing through a newspaper, readers “bump into stuff you weren’t that interested in or stuff that wasn’t important to you until you saw that story and you were forced to engage with it.” 

Digital news offers a more personalized experience, where most readers are only landing on the pages with stories they already know they’re interested in, which means “we are less forced to engage with that which we are uncomfortable with,” Britt said. 

“So one of the things I try to do as a writer.. Is to try to engage people on uncomfortable topics without attack and judgment and condemnation. I’m just so inspired and empowered by our samnesses as opposed to our differences and the more we are open to each other the better off we are.”  

I am hopeful in 15 years there will be more journalists writing like Britt this way. I’m also hopeful there will be more diversity in the journalism industry. As a Black woman Britt offers a different perspective than most mainstream columnists. In fifteen years I hope there are more Black journalists, more Indigenous journalists, more queer journalists, and more disabled journalists, to name a few. People living at these margins of society have not had enough voice in the media so far and with more journalists with these identities I believe the industry will be much stronger. 

Kevin Merida,  Los Angeles Times executive editor and Britt’s husband, offers another key piece during the panel. “We have to get closer to our communities,” he said, both “the readers [we have] and the readers that we would like.” 

“Sometimes before you get them to subscribe you gotta do some other things. You know I’m prepared to have some block parties… I’m prepared to do whatever it takes.”

I think this tidbit speaks to the value of journalism as part of the community. To be part of the fabric of community, it is not enough to sit and report on it from inside the newsroom. I hope in 15 years more reporters will embrace the community they cover and immerse themselves in it. 

Jessica Johnson, former editor-in-chief of the Walrus, writes about how the journalism industry faces a “wicked problem” – to save what’s lost or to invest in what’s new? Though there are certainly aspects worth saving, my hope for the future comes more from investing in what’s new. 

As Merida said, “this is the time we are living in, we just have to try things. If they work, let’s do more of them, and if they don’t, let’s try other things.”  

Without a crystal ball or qualifications that far exceed my own, I don’t feel able to predict specifics about what the industry will look like in 15 years. What I do feel able to say is this – the industry will be different, but it’s not going to die. 

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