Race to the Bottom: The Death of the Newspaper Dani Telford Editor Why talk when you can tweet right? At least that's what we're being forced fed in an onslaught of speculation surrounding the death of the newspaper, and technology's complicity in its demise. Gone are the days of traditional communications, and with it, our institutions. The publishing industry is facing what seems to be a grim race to the bottom, a ruthless game to see who goes under first. For some years now there has been a death watch on our newspapers as we habitually become accustomed to Daily papers encumbering obituary columns worldwide. Once upon a time, 4 million copies of a paper effortlessly flew off shelves, nowadays even the ‘Bestselling’ titles are lucky to reach the 2 million copy benchmark. In the last year alone, print sales declined by 10% for daily broadsheets and by 5% for tabloids, and when the News of the World stopped printing last July, sales of 600,000 simply disappeared. The “Doomsday tick tock” can be heard vociferously against the backdrop of New Media prophets calling for innovative apparatus of accountability, fervently coxswained by an army of bloggers and twitterati alike. An indisputable case of 'lions led by donkeys'
surely? The inaccuracies of raw journalism through social networking and slapdash websites, (which let's face it, are glossy propaganda for a thriving democracy) stifle the core principle of media itself. Could we be lost to a revolution whereby an erosion of veteran reportage is the common ideal? Are we not headed into an abyss of unworldliness and diluted information? Who will we trust once the likes of the New York Times and the Guardian cease to exist? Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher of The Nation, highlights “the great capacity of a newsroom. If you think of the history of these institutions; Watergate, Abu Ghraib, the Walter Reed scandal – a newsroom full of experienced journalists”. The mere fact that it came out in print gave the story a weight, a real gravity that demanded attention. It’s hard for a blog to have the same kind of weight simply because they’re so ubiquitous. An endless seem of meaningless word vomit, often our bypassing thoughts are coupled with a sigh, "Oh not another one". 1.4 million new blog entries are posted daily, the vast majority of which are written by people who simply do not possess the journalistic standards required to adequately express the facts. Breaking the news in an ethical and accurate way will soon become but distant a memory, if one were to believe the hype. When Daniel Ellsberg knocked on the door of The Times to leak the Pentagon Papers (secret reports about the Vietnam War) there existed a power to ‘stop the presses’. These days, as Wikileaks has proficiently demonstrated, all you have to do is drop a video on Youtube and simply for people to find it. How can newspapers compete with such efficiency and dynamism? Reason tells us that we must kill the old technology to make room for the new; the TV was going to kill the radio; movies were
going to kill theatre; and the Internet was going to annihilate them all. But the death of the newspaper has been greatly exaggerated in this sense. One must replace the myth with what lies at the core of great journalism… the facts. Neither Facebook nor Twitter can extinguish a medium which continues to provide irreplaceable value and remains in the possession of a unique cultural significance. You see it's not about competing, because newspapers are the legwork in real reporting which holds together the entire frame. The media, let's remember, is a technological industry; when technology changes, the media changes. If you eradicate mainstream media, websites such as the Gawker and Huffington Post with their regurgitated stories and liberal deployment of inexperienced bloggers, will inexorably fail. The august and struggling flagship of British and American journalism which has dominated #mediaarmageddon campaigns is further embroidered by the façade of a 'fast and free' access culture. People are quick to forget that the quality of information, matters. And this is the real danger facing society. Bill Keller, former executive editor of the New York Times, at a speech in London in 2008 said, “At places where editors and publishers gather, the mood these days is funereal. Editors ask one another, ‘How are you?’ in that sober tone one employs with friends who have just emerged from rehab or a messy divorce”. Keller’s speech appeared on the Website of its sponsor, the Guardian, under the headline “NOT DEAD YET”. With over 100 video posts a month, 80 blogs and 40 million online users, the institutions we fear to be soon extinct are, in fact becoming fully engaged in the revolution. Perhaps the question is not whether the newspaper is dead or dying, but rather by what means can it survive?
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