After working full-time in the print journalism business for almost a quarter of a century, questions are still directed to me from time to time about the future of print media.
To be honest, it has always pained me to see how the print side of journalism has declined in recent decades. Part of the decline is due simply to technological advancement while another portion has been self-inflicted, although many higher-ups in the print media would never admit it.
Growing up, the big daily papers in Atlanta and Macon were part of our house on a daily basis. Both papers covered issues big and small. Both had standout sports sections.
Since that time the internet, of course, appeared and has been one of the major reasons print media has declined in readership in the past decade. Even large daily newspapers aren’t able to keep up with up-to-the-second news that can be found on your computer screen.
The various 24-hour news cable stations have also played a role, but I’ve never been convinced you are getting an accurate portrayal of the news on any of them. You mainly get a slant from one political side or another, but many people have long since gotten out of the habit of reading a daily newspaper for their information, and the cable news shows have certainly taken advantage of that.
Smaller daily publications have probably struggled the most. Despite its massive population, Gwinnett County does not have a print newspaper available seven days per week. The number of days for the paper based in Gwinnett is now three times per week after slowly declining from six through the years.
Recently, The Newnan Times-Herald in Coweta County announced it would now only be twice a week. At one time it was published every day. That’s a huge decrease and chances are most readers will throw in the towel. One can only hope the paper itself does not.
Back when the internet took off, daily newspapers tried to adjust to the times with websites of their own, but that also led to the decline in their print readership. When the powers-that-be who run daily papers put all of their content online for free, then what incentive did readers have to buy the print version?
Now many papers have changed to subscription-based websites although some readers have revolted at that since for so long it was free. To be honest there should have always been a charge to read a newspaper’s website.
It’s fine to put part of a story online for free but just like you have to buy the print edition to read it, it should be the same if one is reading it on their computer.
Personally, I am old-fashioned when it comes to giving away news for free. It shouldn’t be done.
The future for print newspapers likely rests in community-oriented publications like the one you are now reading. Larger papers have never been interested in all the local news of where you live, only the unusual items such as murders or corrupt politicians.
However, newspapers like the one you are reading offer things you will never get anywhere else. It still publishes who is getting married, who died, who is born, who won the local football game on Friday night, what happened at the routine political meeting and even who was arrested. (This has always been a popular feature among readers unless you are the one arrested, of course.)
Community publications provide news items that readers are interested in. However, that does not mean the future is guaranteed for community papers either.
I know of several weekly papers in Georgia which have ceased operations through the years. I have worked for two of them.
Each case is different, but in some cases it was the fault of the owners, publishers and editors. Owners simply looked to squeeze money from a community and some editors took the approach to not report bad news. Some felt quality reporting was not necessary and that readers would pay to read whatever was thrown together on the page. Others closed for reasons which were unavoidable.
A few years ago, my high school alma mater was playing for a baseball state championship. In working on a preview story for the upcoming championship series, I obtained a copy of the newspaper where the opposing school was located. I was curious to see what the coverage was like in that publication.
After I looked at that paper (print edition of course), one would not have known a local baseball team was attempting to win a state championship. There was not one word about it. There were no photos, no stories, nothing at all.
One thing which will certainly hurt community papers will be if the state ever takes away the legal advertising, which is required to be published. There has been a push for years to take the legal advertising away from print newspapers and place them on a website.
To this point, that battle has been won by the newspapers but each year brings another opportunity for that to change. Often legal advertising funds help keep local papers in business.
Another battle that is likely all but lost is that young people don’t read newspapers and certainly don’t buy them. With each new generation, newspapers lose more readership base. It’s a problem that may not be solvable.
Many magazines have now done away with their print editions. Certainly you can still find a variety of print magazines at your local grocery store but there are certainly less in 2019 than there were in 1989.
There are several strong community newspapers in this area, including the one you are reading these musings in. Hopefully in another 10, 20 and 30 years, print journalism will still be around. I truly hope so but it will be a battle and a fight for survival which must be fought carefully.