Decline in print journalism poses threat to democracy

We have become numb to extinction in the 21st century. We watch habitats and animals, once numerous and thriving, dissolve before our eyes. We witness the demise of entire generations and their cultural habits. We see fashions, foods and aspects of popular culture cycle in and out. Yet, 50 years ago, no one could have predicted the emergence of the internet and the subsequent digitization of printed journals and information.

The World Wide Web undoubtedly works to equalize access to information. Computers in public libraries and schools allow people from all walks of life to explore what interests them and discover global, national and local happenings. The conversion of printed information to digitized media not only allows people to post vast quantities of knowledge for the world, but also forces scores of printed journals to shift their focus to online subscribership. This digitization allows local journals to reach a larger audience as well as save printing costs and paper. Unfortunately, however, the repercussions of this societal change are complex. Increased access to free information deters users from paying for journal subscriptions, whether print or online. Consequently, a growing amount of seemingly trustworthy yet unreliable information saturates the internet.

For 28 years now, readership for both printed and online journals has continued to decrease. In the United States, weekday print circulation dropped from 60 million in 1994 to 35 million in 2018. Newsroom employment decreased by 40 percent within the same timeframe. Counter to the trend, digital subscriptions for journals such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal spiked following the 2016 election. Nevertheless, while the increase in subscribership boosted the revenues of these individual journals, the future of most other journals still seems grim (Pew Research Center, “Newspaper Fact Sheet,” 06.13.2018).

The deterioration of journalism affects not only the United States but also the world. British Prime Minister Theresa May warned, “[The closing of local newspapers] is dangerous for our democracy. When trusted and credible news sources decline, we can become vulnerable to news which is untrustworthy” (The Guardian, “Decline of local journalism threatens democracy, says May,” 02.06.2018). In addition, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to provide $50 million to support local news agencies and vowed to propose new legislation that would help nonprofit journals. Yet, given the grave state of journal revenue losses, these measures serve as little more than a symbolic gesture. Sources predict that many major cities will lose their local news journals in the next two to five years (The Washington Post, “A Once Unimaginable Scenario: No More Newspapers,” 03.21.2018).

Those of us who grew up poring over the comics in the Sunday newspaper or watched our parents read articles in The New York Times will likely feel the decline of newspapers on a more personal level. However, those not directly affected by print journals have reasons to worry as well. With easy access to information on the internet comes the ability to easily create content online. Although world-renowned journals and news agencies exist on the internet, the overwhelming amount of information which clutters the World Wide Web and may or may not tell the truth at times overshadows more reputable sources. Furthermore, fearmongering and clickbait complicate the process of garnering accurate information in addition to furthering the dissemination of inaccurate information.

Social media in particular perpetuates the distribution of less accurate news, most of which has not undergone the tedious process of fact-checking. Vice News co-founder Shane Smith commented, “Moreover, the Internet…has quickly come to be dominated by a pair of global giants from Silicon Valley—Google and Facebook—that are not only lacking in passion for news, but actively avoiding the responsibilities of a publisher” (The Washington Post). Newspapers are generally trustworthy sources of world, national and local news and have been for hundreds of years. Due to the strenuous stages of verification and fact-checking that characterize the world of professional journalism, many regard reputable newspapers and online journals as dependable. But if such journals decrease in prevalence, how can we know which information to trust? Where will it come from? How can we be certain whether our news is correct?

In a world filled with biased reporting and misinformation, mass media makes it difficult for people to trust the facts they see and hear. Due to party-biased funding, news organizations such as Fox News and MSNBC give differing reports of the same happenings. However, while the press can fall victim to biases and errors, it still acts as a facilitator of democracy, informing readers of relevant and noteworthy information. Nevertheless, the American public must remain aware of the biases inherent in their sources and garner their news from a variety of different reputable journals in order to establish their own truths, in addition to approaching every report with caution and insight.

More important, the American public must not fall prey to the fear-mongering and misinformation permeating much of the internet, which continues to replace long-standing and reliable news sources. Despite the complicated status of the media, the American public must support and contribute to its press as a form of democracy. The press not only disseminates factual information, but it also allows people’s voices to be heard.

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