Thomas Howard: Print media’s demise greatly exaggerated

By THOMAS HOWARD,

Over the weekend, I was disheartened to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeting about the impending death of journalism. She seemed upset about what she saw as the demise of the fourth estate and encouraged her social media followers to support local media outlets.

While, as a journalist, I appreciate her using her platform to promote local publications like ours, I cannot disagree more with the reasoning behind her impassioned plea.

The claim “Journalism is dying,” is just flat out not true.

There is no question journalism has taken some licks over the past couple decades. The rise of instantaneous, digital communication has thrown us a curve ball. Print advertising is seeping away as small newspapers struggle to carve out an online presence in a landscape dominated by advertising behemoths like Facebook and Google. Subscriptions are down and digital readers spew venom at the very mention of paywalls. Oh, yes. We’ve been hit hard, but we are a long way from dead.

I would describe the current state of journalism as similar to the boat scene in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Not that trash with Johnny Depp, the real one with Gene Wilder.

Journalism is in a state of change. The industry is a caterpillar wrapping itself in a cocoon, or for my fellow millennials, a Pokémon evolving into something new. It’s a state of confusion, chaos and fear as industry leaders try to find a way to keep the presses running, reporters paid and subscriptions to the online AP Stylebook up-to-date.

As Gene Wilder put it, “There’s no knowing where we’re going.”

But we are going somewhere, and that in itself is exciting.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic – a first for me. Maybe print journalism is dying. Maybe digital revenue will never be able to fill in the gaps, turning news outlets into skeleton crews of mentally exhausted reporters churning out endless articles just to scrape by. Maybe we’re already there.

I take heart, however, knowing true journalism, the checks on power, the bare, unvarnished truth, the step-by-step explanation of why we should care about something and how it will impact our communities, is immortal. True journalism is a message that transcends medium, drawing its own audience, rippling through the public sphere as people seek it out to see how they will be affected.

There may come a day when the presses stop running, when the last newspaper shuts its doors for good. If that happens, I will join others in mourning the loss of a great institution, a fallen monument to the experiment of democracy; it will be a sad day indeed. However, I have no doubt journalists will be there to cover its passing.

I don’t know what the future holds for journalism. I don’t know if digital publications can, or will, pick up the slack. Watching layoffs at Gannett and Buzzfeed last week, I struggle to find the bright side of a thousand of my peers out of a job. But, the sun hasn’t set yet. Throughout the world tens of thousands of journalists remain committed to seek truth and report it, to minimize harm, to fact-check claims of politicians and keep the public informed.

No, journalism is not dying. We’re just getting started.

Thomas is the managing editor of the Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@­newtoncountyappeal.com.

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