What follows is a short academic essay I wrote for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges in defense of newspapers not long ago. Don't steal it you piracy bastards LOL!
by Ariel Carmona Jr.
"I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one," wrote Mark Twain for Galaxy Magazine in December of 1870. Twain's satirical sentiment can be transplanted to the modern era, where an editor of a newspaper could arguably hate his job during a point in history when a 24-hour news cycle and the advances of technology have eroded an industry and caused massive layoffs and enough consistent dissatisfaction with the profession to discourage anyone from entering. However, to argue that we should let newspapers die simply because they are already contracting as a result of declining advertising revenues and the crippling effects of a national recession, is not logically persuasive because it relies on numerous faulty assumptions.
First, proponents of alternative methods of dissemination of the news point to the rise in social media, blogs and other outlets for gathering information and relaying it back to the public. Although social media websites like Facebook and Twitter top the lineup of most popular social media networks with an estimated 750 million and 250 million monthly visitors, respectively, ("eBiz The eBusiness Knowledgbase") neither Facebook, nor Twitter, nor You Tube are reliable sources of information, despite their immediacy and popularity. You Tube in particular, is littered with cases illustrating news hoaxes and falsified reports.
Citizen journalism websites are often cited as another viable 21st century replacement for the moribund newspaper industry, but the problems associated with these websites are as prevalent as those with social media sites, perhaps even more so because practitioners of citizen journalism are not trained in journalism practices, libel law, or ethics, and they are not policed in any ways in matters of standards.
Erin Elizabeth, a journalism major at Ithica College in New York, cites examples of the pitfalls of citizen journalists, succinctly arguing, "They're cheap, they're willing and they're woefully untrained." In her impassioned diatribe against them she goes on to write, "Journalism is like teaching, a lot of people think they can teach elementary school. You only have to know how to write and take pictures, but the truth is it's so much more than that which his why my teacher parents say they could never be journalists because they aren't willing to do the work" (Elizabeth)
One can certainly take Elizabeth's post as an embittered rant, but this does not debunk some of the points raised in her argument. Though many newspapers currently exist who solicit and encourage contributions by citizen journalists, they don't see the bigger picture.
CJ Cornell, executive director of New York Institute of Technology's global Vanguard Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program recently spotlighted the problems of having to identify who exactly is a journalist in an age when "Just about anyone with a laptop or cell phone can use free technology to create quality media and reach audiences larger than any newspaper or television network." In his analysis, Cornell explains the recent case of Oregon Blogger Crystal Cox, whose blog was sued for defamation, to the tune of $10 million, for writing several blog posts that were highly critical of an investment firm.
Cornell persuasively uses the Cox verdict to argue against the drawbacks of citizen journalism. "The Crystal Cox case reminds us that journalists need special protections, as a part of their work, to ensure their sources remain confidential. Occupy Wall Street represents countless examples where journalists are granted special access.” (Cornell)
Moreover, those in favor of letting the newspapers perish due to the proliferation of blogs and a plethora of non-profits and news sites fail to consider that for every good blog like a Montanawatchdog.org, or California Watch, there is a sleazy counterpart like the Walnut Tattler. Getting back to the Cox verdict, Cox did not qualify for state shield law protection because she wasn't employed by an official media establishment.
So what is the solution for newspapers to stem the tide and how do we pay for them in light of the financial losses they have already suffered? Luca Shaw's assertion in a wrap.com article that newspaper pay walls like the ones recently adopted by the N.Y. Times and the L.A. Times are too late, may be a bit premature, given some encouraging stories in recent months. The New York Times, for example has had some success with their "Times Select" pay program and so has the Financial Times, which launched a pay wall back in 2010 and has reached 267,000 digital subscribers. (Shaw)
Those who work hard in the industry should be remunerated for their efforts. Traditional print outlets should cooperate with new media and embrace technology, rather than be encumbered or be afraid of it. Reporters should help each other out, after all, the fifth estate and the more mainstream media share the same mission. Perhaps a feasible compromise would be to have smaller newspapers under the aegis or sponsorship of more successful and bigger media conglomerates, similar to popular blogs who feature blogrolls that are alike in tone and topic.
In sum, the argument that newspapers should be discarded does not take into consideration the myriad problems associated with alternative methods of delivering news content. Newspapers are needed because they are still the best way to safeguard our freedoms, the fourth estate still functions as an excellent training ground for the nation's budding reporters and editors. The talent and mentoring combined with the newsroom experience, despite recent cuts, is still immense and valuable, compared to other media; some might even say indispensable.
Just because some have turned away from consumption, does not invalidate their value. People can ignore the benefits of healthy foods, but that will never diminish their importance. Similarly, the analytical and investigative potential of the nation's print newspapers cannot be ignored. Newspapers can never die; their structure may be malleable and they may morph into other forms in the future, but their purpose and their mission can never be underestimated or questioned in a democratic society.
Cornell, CJ. "Media Shift." Idea Lab: Community News for the Digital Age. pbs.org,
31/1/2012. Web. 21 Mar 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/idealab/2012/01/after-crystal-cox-verdict-its-time-to-define-who-is-a-journalist026.html>.
Elizabeth, Erin. "The Case against Citizen Journalists." Independent Media Erin. blogger,
4 Dec 2011. Web. 21 Mar. 2012. <http://mediaerin.blogspot.com/2011/12/case-against-citizen-journalists.html>.
Shaw, Lucas. "Newspaper Paywalls: Too Little, Too Late for a Fallen Giant Industry?." Wrap. 24 Feb 2012: n. page. Web. 21 Mar. 2012.
"Top 15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites." eBiz The eBusiness Knowledgebase
(2012): n.pag. eBiz. Database. 21 Mar 2012. <http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/social-networking-websites>.