What are the duties of print media in a digital world?
By Natalie Serafini, Opinions Editor
Much as it pains me to say this, newspaper and print media journalism is a dying form. Talk to a journalism/media major, anyone who works for a newspaper, or someone who reads newspapers, and they’ll tell you the same thing. With this sharp decline in print readership comes a scramble to turn that descent upside down, and these tactics to increase readership can bring into question the duties of media: trying to pique the interest of the public can sometimes involve pandering to the public, which isn’t always in line with the expectations of print media. While most media outlets tout the importance of communicating honestly, educating, and enlightening, increasing readership sometimes necessitates that you entertain.
It’s generally understood that media will maintain a certain standard—a kind of journalistic integrity that extends past being accurate, objective, and fair. Unless you want to fall down the rabbit hole to the realm of People and Us, there’s a standard in what gets covered and how it’s dealt with. Hard-hitting journalism at its finest should be thought-provoking and important; it should cover difficult issues, and do so with class and eloquence. There’s certainly room to be light-hearted and humorous in-between—there are some delightful examples of print media that do this, and I’m proud to say that I think our own The Other Press is one of them—but with the understanding that the pages won’t devolve into the equivalent of journalistic smut.
Journalism is meant to communicate information, whether or not said information is educational and enlightening. Sometimes this information isn’t entirely honest (see tabloids) and obviously that goes against the purpose of media. Pandering to the public—maybe printing more sensationalist, eye-catching stories—while not necessarily noble, isn’t disreputable. Still, there’s a stigma attached to reading tabloids, magazines, and the like, and a certain sophistication to such classics as the New York Times.
Let’s be honest, though: not many people pick up newspapers anymore, and I can guarantee that a substantial portion of those who actually pick one up flip directly past the informative sections to the crossword. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that—I myself pick up the 24 specifically for its easy-on-the-brain crossword puzzle. It’s only concerning to the extent that newspapers will provide what readers are paying the most attention to. It’s doubtful that the New York Times will slowly evolve into 20 pages of crosswords, but particularly in an ever-growing competition, with papers yellowing and collecting dust with the ages, you’re going to get papers pandering. Just as there’s nothing wrong with sometimes ignoring the world news, there’s nothing wrong with newspapers bulking up the sensationalist sections to catch the eyes of readers flipping through to the Sudoku.
Maybe there will be a slight turn away from political coverage and other discussions of serious issues in the coming years. I’m decidedly against any kind of decrease in coverage of something so important, especially considering my own political illiteracy. But I also recognize that readers are the bread and butter of print media, and that I as a reader am often drawn to stories about cute animals and other light-hearted topics. It’ll be interesting in the coming years—and I remain optimistic that the world of print media won’t die out, even if it gets slightly emaciated—to see whether or not print media will change, and how it will change. I imagine there will always be a certain niche for papers dedicated to various subjects (a greater news, arts, or fashion focus, etc.), but even in the battle of the bindings, papers won’t completely abandon difficult issues in exchange for readers.