For those of you who don’t know me personally, for several years, I worked for newspapers. Or at least for what felt like several years. Despite the fact that I was simultaneously getting a degree in anthropology, my work with newspapers–from collegiate to community to daily to altweekly–literally defined who I was.
I lived it. I breathed it. If I could, I probably would have gobbled it up. And for once in my life, I thought I knew what I wanted to do. I was never happier, in retrospect, than when I woke up in the morning and knew I wouldn’t be back until late, working on production, editing, writing last-minute stories.
This was only a few years ago. In the back of my mind, I knew that circulation numbers were decreasing…I knew that budgets were getting a little tighter. But I felt impervious to its effects. Because when there’s a will, there’s a way…right?
I remember that summer–the one between junior and senior year in college. The one that is defining in so many ways, because, for me, I felt absolutely certain that I wasn’t going to stop with my bachelor’s, but that I was going to go and get a master’s in journalism and be one fabulous journalist.
And then I got the talk. My boss at the paper I was working at was a very persuasive person, as most good journalists tend to be. He told me that the discipline was dying–that too many people could get news for free on the Internet. Why continue in print, he said, when it won’t pay? Why would a newspaper or magazine pay professional reporters for what bloggers and other people are willing to do for free? I shook my head no, trying to convince myself that I still wanted to go ahead, but in my heart of hearts realized that he was right.
So I’ve moved on, and a few years later, he was absolutely right. I miss working with print and–I never thought I would ever say this–reporting, getting to know a community and telling their stories, but what place does that have in our society? At one point, we thought that if print had any hope, it was in hyperlocality…the community newspapers. But even then, I see them cutting back pages, outsourcing design, laying off much-needed reporters, and even shutting doors.
What, then, is the future of journalism? What will one of my friends and former colleagues do when she graduates with a master’s in journalism?
I was reading today about a senate hearing in which David Simon, known best as the creator of The Wire and a former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, pleaded for the fate of journalism. People, he said, are turning toward blogs for commentary, but the actual news source is still papers and other communications companies. These companies still need to pay reporters and photographers, yet people are not willing to pay for the product. And if you cannot sell a product, then you do not have a product.
I’m not sure where this hearing will take the future of journalism, but I am sad to see its definite decline. Like everything else in this world and economy, clearly it needs adaptation. But where, then, is the place for professional journalists to actually make a living in a world that wants free and instant gratification?