A Strong, Free Society Needs Print Newspapers

Carlos Magana/Southwestern College Sun Staff

By: Albert Fulcher, A Perspective

Published: Thursday, May 17th, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Vincent Van Gogh sold one piece of art in his lifetime. Critics called his free style of painting with vivid colors “undeveloped” and “intangible.” Jackson Pollock fearlessly defied the norm with his emotionally-charged layering of abstract strings and splashes, laying canvases on the floor and using household items as media.
Critics during the lifetimes of Van Gogh and Pollock prophesized the death of traditional painting and said their work defiled the art world, but they were wrong. Upon reflection that revolutionary pair are now considered pioneers of great art.
Naysayers who have condemned print newspapers to death are as premature and out of touch as the early critics of Van Gogh and Pollock. There remains a large consumer demand for print and ample evidence that daily and weekly community newspapers have many miles to go before they sleep. Print is not on its deathbed, it is evolving to today’s economic realities.
Print is weaved through America’s history like the stars on Betsy Ross’ flag. Since their introduction in 1690, newspapers have been the voice of America through revolution, war, peace, triumph and tragedy. Today, as through the centuries, newspapers are America’s most trusted and complete source of information.
Since the early 2000s, the newspaper industry has suffered through layoffs, bankruptcies and recession. Loss of advertising revenue, increased production and distribution costs, and the explosion of the Internet looked insurmountable. Pernicious Craigslist caused classified ads income to evaporate. Newspapers seemed to be on life support.
Like feisty Mark Twain, however, reports of newspapers’ demise seem greatly exaggerated.
“Still, even in an age of 24/7 cable news and thousands of websites, newspapers maintain their status as the best source for in-depth and investigative news coverage,” wrote Tony Rogers, of theAbout.com Guide to Journalism.
In March 2009, 24/7 Wall St. predicted the collapse of 10 major newspapers, giving eight of them an 18-month life span. After three years, however, all of these “doomed” newspapers remain in full operation.
A Congressional Research Service report indicated that since 2000 America has lost less than one percent of its 1,400 daily newspapers. Analysts concluded that smaller daily and community papers with circulations less than 50,000 remain profitable and better positioned with readers and advertisers than larger dailies.
“As old-style, print newspapers decline, new journalism startups are developing around the country, aided by the low entry costs on the Internet,” the report read. “The emerging ventures hold promise but do not yet have the experience, resources, and reach of shrinking mainstream newspapers.”
Of 16 specific local topics studied in a 2011 Pew Research Center Report, newspapers ranked or tied as the most reliable source for news in 11 categories.
“This dependence on newspapers for so many local topics sets it apart from all other sources of local news. The Internet, which was cited as the most relied upon source for five of the 16 topics, was distant second to newspapers in terms of widespread use and value.”
A 2010 Pew report saw improvement in profits, but the industry still faces declining revenues and has not found reliable sources to replace advertising. Some members of Congress are wondering if newspaper insolvency poses a public threat warranting federal action. Corrective measures could include tax breaks, relaxing antitrust policy, tightening copyright law, general support for the practice of journalism and helping newspapers transition into nonprofit organizations.
Evolution can be a painful process in a world where technology is almost running amuck. Time Magazine, “10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life” reported, “Each day, the average American spends about 12 hours consuming information, taking on more than 100,000 words that total 34 gigabytes of data.”
Watchdog journalism and important local news reporting are critical to America’s civic health, and newspapers are migrating in that direction. Papers are experimenting with alternative sources of revenue. Many local papers rely on legal advertising revenue and have closer relationships with local businesses. QR codes can be embedded in ads. This is an open market revenue stream with possibilities of more ads using less space. Collaborating with radio, television and online outlets can bring business-to-business revenue used extensively in the Internet world.
It is time to think outside the box because the box is already gone. The future of print, like Van Gogh and Pollock, looks better with time.


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