A few weeks ago, I toured the production plant for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Upon arriving, the tour guide handed me a pamphlet with the definition of “headline” and “reporter” written in Comic Sans and a diagram of how to make hats out of newsprint. It didn’t take me long to realize that these tours are catered toward 12-year-olds, not a 20-year-old journalism student. But I was already there, and I might as well check out the printing press.
Since I was the only person on the tour (I went during school hours), I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with my tour guide about the changes occurring in the journalism industry. She used to work full time for the Star Tribune. After retiring, she came back as a full-time tour guide. Now she only works when a group of 10-year-olds go on a field trip.
As we walked around the plant, I was shocked by how few people we encountered. Many of the rooms I walked through were empty, and the production center had more machines than people. My tour guide explained various jobs that used to be done by several people and now have had to cut back.
She also told me about some of the questions she asks young students on tours. She asks them where they think news comes from, and most of the elementary, middle and even high school students answered that news reporters get their information from the Internet.
Their answers demonstrate how taken-for-granted information is nowadays. This generation of children is one of the first who has grown up never knowing anything besides the Internet, and because of this they’ve lost appreciation for the research behind the information posted.
Information has the capability to travel very quickly via the Internet, social media, text messaging, etc. But faster doesn’t always mean better. Regardless of the medium, people will always need an outlet that provides unbiased, factual information, which means news will always have a place in society.
It’s no secret that newspapers are in decline. No matter how fast a printing press can churn out copy, the Internet will always be faster. However, we have to make sure that eliminating newspapers doesn’t eliminate news.
As technology progresses and information-sharing shifts primarily online, the news industry needs to keep up with these changes just like any other industry. Retail stores will continue to expand and sell merchandise online. Novels and textbooks will continue to be offered digitally. In this respect, journalism is no different than any other industry in keeping up with technology.
However, journalists today are battling more than just technological change. They’re battling an overall shift in society’s views of the media. With all of the noise online, it’s often hard to distinguish fact from fiction and hard news from editorials.
News organizations carry much of the burden for making sure they distinguish their content as hard news and make it accessible online, but ultimately, the news industry will fail if society fails to recognize the pivotal role of the press in maintaining democracy.
The press is the only private industry protected by the Constitution. The Founding Fathers recognized the significance of the media as a “watchdog” of government that provides factual information on the inner workings of Congress free of bias. If people don’t support the media, they lose a major check on government because without the media, who will get the inside information on Washington and hold public figures accountable?
Blogging and editorializing have their place in media and online (see: Raposa’s Ramblings), but without a strong foundation of hard news, the next generation will grow up relying only on the information posted on the Internet with little appreciation for the freedoms afforded them by the media. Society needs news.
Without it, the lack of information will create a hole in society much larger than all of the empty printing presses.