Recently, I gave a talk at the Deland, Florida, library on the state of the media in the United States. It’s the library’s custom to ask audiences to fill in questionnaires about the quality of the presentation and what they heard. One listener wrote “the last of his bred.” I’m sure that’s true since I’ll soon be 97 years old. I’m certainly in the twilight of my life and my career as a print journalist is behind me. But, I’m as curious as ever. I probe, I read, I research.
So, as we enter the new decade what do I see is ahead for my craft? Newspapers have had a rough go so far in the 21st century and it seems that their sustainability is no brighter in the new decade. It isn’t the fault of the industry. My heart, and my hopes, remains with it. But, people’s habits in seeking the news of the day are quickly changing in our new digital age. Sadly, the longtime business model of print media is no longer viable. Advertising and circulation are at new lows and are expected to continue downward.
What does this foresee to me? My prediction is that by 2030 print newspapers, and print magazines as well, will be gone from the streets and homes. So, mark that down on your calendars for December 31, 2029.
The past year, 2019, was not kind to journalists. Newsroom employment last year in the U.S. declined an historic 25 %, said the Columbia Journalism Review. The publication said some 3,l00 editors and newsroom staffers lost their jobs. Business Insider reports that total media layoffs (print and electronic) in 2019 topped out at about 7,700. Unfortunately, this included some online computer startups. And the jury is certainly still out on whether print readers will switch to digital editions where the competition for editorial content and ad revenues includes new on-line giants like Facebook and Google. Both are raking in the ad dollars. And there’s the upstart Apple News Plus.
“Facebook’s influence on journalism has been disastrous,” said Ryan Thomas, associate professor of journalism studies at the University of Missouri, in a quote on Daily Beast. “The idea that there are enough journalists out there to fact check all the false claims on Facebook is naïve.”
Sixty percent of the counties in the United States no long benefit from daily newspaper coverage. One example of this is the eastern side of San Francisco Bay stretching from Oakland inward were some 2.7 million people live and work. The venerable Oakland Tribune is gone as well as papers in the small towns beyond. The single paper left is said to be the East Bay Times in Walnut creek.
The big loser there and across the country, of course, is the in-depth coverage of local staffs that were in and out of government offices all day long. The watchdog role of local reporters is gone. Regional TV stations and big city stations just aren’t interested in day to day goings on in local city halls and county buildings in outlying communities. Research organizations have found that in locales that have lost newspapers, municipal costs increase and fewer people tend to run for public office. A vital communications pipeline between officeholders and their constituents also disappears, and voter turnout declines. There are no longer the stories about local garden clubs and the PTA. When a local paper closes down a lot of Americana goes, too. So does institutional memory.
Now, this just in. The Richmond (Va.) News Dispatch has sold its long- time headquarters building to a hotel chain. Its newsroom will remain the building for the time being.
So, it goes!