All the news that’s fit to print

Layoffs are the order of the day for print media.  An estimated 3775 newsroom jobs were lost in 2011 alone, spread among newspapers large and small. Across the nation, newspapers papers, magazines, even books are giving way to Internet-based news and literature. The Washington Post, an icon in the publishing world, has recently reduced its staff.  Our own Kansas City Star has announced repeated layoffs including, most recently, in mid February, 2012.  As readers we are concerned with the ways in which the loss of traditional sources of information shrinks our ability to gather meaningful date on the important issues of the day.
Does this really matter if Internet sources are ready to provide us information?  The question, at least in part, is whether internet media will assume the mantel of investigative and in-depth reporting, on a local and national level, that inevitably declines as newspapers that have sustained reductions in news room staff.
Remember All the President’s Men, by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein? They spent months meeting with an anonymous informer identified only as “deep throat” before publishing a series of articles in the Washington Post exposing the Watergate scandal that resulted in President Nixon’s resignation and prison sentences for key members of his staff.  Our own Kansas City Star has repeatedly exposed incompetence and corruption throughout the metropolitan area.  The repeated reductions in staff leave the news room gutted, with at best only limited ability to seek out corruption, or report more than minimal local news.

The reduction in paid subscriptions and advertising revenues may make staff downsizing inevitable.  At the same time, competition between and among internet news source makes the competition for audiences more intense.  Facing that challenge, the Washington Post has expressed a commitment to continue it’s in-depth reporting, while moving aggressively to increase readership of its Internet paper.  Relying on online metrics to identify the number of clicks each of its articles receives, it is able to monitor constantly the popularity of each article, identify those with limited interest and replace low performing articles on a ongoing basis.  In this environment, is it reasonable to worry that articles about Kardashian weddings and celebrity probation violations will attract larger audiences than  school board meetings, second injury funds and low-level corruption. Focusing news and media attention on “easy news”, ie. news that is easily available through multiple sources, is cheaper and faster than authorizing journalists to spend months on a single article, or even a series of articles, requiring extensive research and exploration. It will be even more of a challenge to find a means by which journalists will be vigilant about reporting the mundane, but critical issues facing local communities.

It is difficult to criticize the paper media.  Their goal in 2012 is not to expand profit, but to secure survival while finding new resources and audiences.  In the interim we must, each of us, support and encourage  journalism that helps us to remain knowledgeable of the challenges that continue to confront us.  Certainly, this is essential to an educated citizenry.

Edward R. Murrow explained the problem this way: “the newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end, the communicator will be left with the problem of what to say and how to say it”.

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