If I’ve learned anything from the recent news of media companies with massive layoffs, it’s that the news media’s main issue is that it has been massively devalued. In a Slate article, “The Crisis Facing American Journalism Did Not Start With the Internet,” the author, Jeremy Littau, notes that the economic fall of journalism isn’t just about massive publishers expecting high margins, cutting staffs or facing the enemy of the low internet ad revenue. It had to do with how we used to use newspapers and how we don’t use them now.
Before, newspapers were the main way to get connected with your community. You went to it to read what was happening that day, what public officials were saying, where to buy a couch or rent a bedroom and even where to see some people argue over random topics via letters to the editor.
Now, day-to-day human connections we used to rely on old media to make, as Slate notes, are taken over by other services online. We’re no longer going to the classifieds page for job ads — that’s what journalismjobs.com and indeed.com are for. We’re no longer going there to buy a couch or rent a room — just check Facebook marketplace or Craigslist.
Littau sums it up perfectly: “Online publishing, with its low cost and global reach, changed everything. Those information needs could be met by a wider, more global array of choices. The newspaper was not the only game in town.”
And so went the traditional ways of making companies more profitable: cut excess fat. But as Littau says, “Cuts led to loss of quality, which drove away readers.”
He argues that people need to come back to valuing community journalism for the industry as a whole to succeed again. People need to value specific, local journalism in order for them to invest in it again. He lists examples like ProPublica, the Nevada Independent and the Texas Tribune (one of my dream jobs, btw!) as new examples of crowdfunding that has created successful and powerful news.
Littau’s article reminds me of something my friends and I discussed while watching the Washington Post’s Super Bowl commercial. Yes, spending millions on a commercial when it could go to national newsroom resources is devastating to hear. But the reality is, we need advertisements that enforce the importance of freedom of the press. We need to give journalism a new PR tour. What better way than through a giant, patriotic Super Bowl commercial?
I believe that if we make the public realize and care about journalism again, we’ll see huge impacts in local revenue at papers. Once audiences realize the power of a local investigation on their daily lives, they’ll put the spend the money to receive it daily.
Unfortunately, it may take a few more years of Facebook comments of readers complaining that they hit the paywall limit. Because for now, people think everything on the internet should be free.