Can the News Survive the Newspaper?

This article, published by the New York Times early last September, discusses the future of news reporting while the industry adjusts to the steady decline of newspaper, or print media, readership as online news sources and social media gain widespread popularity and “viewership” across the globe. Rutenberg makes the case that yes, news will indeed survive the newspaper, comparing the current transition to online news to that of “the Horse and Buggy Operators Association adjusting to the advances in surface transportation,” which I thought was clever. The main issues, then, aside from the pain of transitioning itself, appear to be revenue and efficiency as it relates to reliability; we must consider how news providers will continue to make money without the support of print subscriptions and, given the instantaneous nature of the Internet and how easily information is disseminated, how these “publications” will fight to remain relevant, up-to-date information providers while still taking the time and legwork necessary to fact check their sources.

I thought that this article had a lot of personality in the way that it was reported; the lede is catchy and clever, and it leads neatly into the nut graph, which provides context for the story by citing the decision to rename the former Newspaper Association of America. I found the kicker to be a little cheery, though, and I felt it didn’t need to self-reference the article. The issues that face news providers at this moment in time are quite serious, and I don’t think we’ve yet earned the optimism presented in the last few lines of this story.

Personally, I’m concerned with what I perceive to be an increased value that is placed on breaking news versus in-depth, investigative reporting. Many people seem to have begun equating news with shock value, and compelling news to many people is synonymous with “new” news that is just recently developing. An article about Trump’s latest Twitter diss will most likely get more clicks that a report about the history leading up to our current global humanitarian crisis of 20 million people facing starvation in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria. Plenty of online news sources lack the analysis and nuance that some may consider typical of good reporting and instead emphasize clickbait and real-time coverage that lacks the evaluation of facts necessary to actually be informative. I imagine they do this to keep up with that first issue presented in the article; in order to amass viewers to view your stories and their revenue-generating ads, you’ve got to give the people the type of information they want to see, and if they want that information presented in the most simplified way possible, that’s what providers will do.

What are your thoughts on the future of news? How would you advise providers to strike an optimal balance between attracting readers with relevant topics while remaining committed to complex and factual reporting? How will they make up for lost revenue? Does the newspaper have an “everlasting soul” that will continue to live on online?

Also, if you found the section about Facebook’s algorithm interesting, I’d recommend checking out another one of our readings for this week, an article published by the Wall Street Journal that provides side-by-side simulations of the types of information attracted by left and right-leaning Facebook accounts: Blue Feed, Red Feed.

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7 Responses to “Can the News Survive the Newspaper?”

  1. Great post, Bella – thanks for all of the insights. I too liked the personality and clever, almost conversational tone of the article. I agree that the lede was engaging and the horse and buggy metaphor was effective.

    My biggest problem with the article – and maybe this is a product of the informal style – is the lack of statistics to back up Rutenberg’s claims, especially when this is an article about comparison and impact, which can be so concretely quantified. For example, I would have loved to see the readership/viewership sizes and ad revenue estimates for print and online sources. All we get is one figure about number of US newspapers: “It has fallen to about 2,000 from roughly 2,700 in 2008, executives there say.” Including the numbers of this drop lends credibility, and the lack of additional numbers is a little frustrating. Rutenberg does link to a lot of credible sources, but I would have preferred to see these figures included in-article.

    Overall, though, this article was good, and made me think in new ways about the future of news. I agree, though, Bella – the replacement of in-depth reporting with clickbait-y “breaking news” worries me too.

  2. Thank you Bella – I really enjoyed this article, and the chance to read your thoughts on it. I think the author did a good job exploring the dangers of increasingly algorithm driver news whose aim is to attract clicks. I think it is important to keep in mind, however, that this phenomenon is by no means new. Though today competition in the news world may be greater, and more punishing, in my opinion news organizations have always been primarily motivated by profit. While there is no denying the spread of clickbait and inaccurate online news is happening, and with serious consequences, I also agree with the author that these new conditions may also may filter out trivial news, and bring to the front only the most compelling stories. As far as the idea of news’ everlasting soul goes, I think this metaphor is true, but I would be cautious to accept that as invincibility, or incorruptibility. Even if news lives on, it can still be oppressed, and even if news survives, what survives is yet to be determined.

  3. Great post, Bella! Thanks for agreeing to be a blog leader the week after moderating the speaker discussion. I think the question you pose about not sacrificing in-depth reporting for news that generates clicks is a challenge faced by any news source today. It will be interesting to explore this when you sit in on the news meeting at the Free Press this week. There will undoubtedly be discussion of news that generates clicks and if there isn’t I hope you or other students will ask plenty of questions about this topic. What types of adjustments has the news organization had to make to ensure that its articles generate views? What types of investigative initiatives are they most proud of and that they were able to invest in, despite the pressure for clicks? You will have a unique opportunity to get the perspective of editors there. I appreciate you highlighting the Blue Feed, Red Feed initiative, which is truly a fascinating exploration of the news silos we discussed last week.

  4. Wow, Bella, I thought your analysis of this news feature was outstanding! To me, I think this news article overhypes the significance of this News organization dropping the name “Newspaper” from the title of the firm. In the beginning, it presents a doomsday scenario of how this evolution to online news will ultimately lead to worse quality reporting and algorithms selecting topics that are not news worthy. However, in the end, it cites Mr. Kilngensmith who simply states this name change signals an expansion of opportunity.

    We live in a technology-driven era. Our productivity as humans has increased signficantly with the help of algorithms and software that enable us to think broadly about topics, rather than get bogged down with the details. In the case of the Facebook algorithm, I would like to see how many thousands of hours the software has saved in searching for material to post on the social media site. There exists a tradeoff and in my opinion, the time saved is much more valuable than the cost of one or two poor articles being accidently scraped and posted on the site. With the total amount of information we have gathered in this world doubling every two years, we need to rely on software to help us dissect through this expansive data to find what is most important for all viewers.

    To not rely on technology is foolish. Combining human oversight with data collection is the most effective way of gather information and then screening what articles should be ultimately posted for news organizations.

  5. The lede of this article does a good job of attracting readers’ attentions when it compares the status of newspaper industry to a transition of going from intensive care “into the palliative wing.” I found the name change to be interesting in that the group has now become “News Media Alliance.” The name itself perhaps suggests that one of the ways to rescue the newspaper industry is to require TV media such as CNN, NBC, etc.. to pay a service fee to whosever newspaper source it is using for its segments. However, on another note, as the Internet continues to dominate our lives, I am curious to see the relevance of TV 20-30 years from now since many cable companies have begun to offer online streaming as a solution to attract back the “cable cutters.” Hence, the reliance of newspaper on TV might not be a long-lasting solution.
    It is difficult to bring back the value of newspaper if our culture remains intact. For instance, the click baits we found on our social media or on the Internet today is possibly due to our society increasing becoming more self-centered. For example, one would click more on a piece about a beauty product or a tip that would greatly enhance our quality of life instead of what happened at a city council meeting last week. Until the education system as well as people with high influence among the public make it known to the people of all ages that newspaper is not there to personalize our experiences, but rather exists to help us becoming more informed citizens, that is when we can potentially revitalize the essence of journalism.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this article, Bella! I really appreciated hearing your analysis of what the future of news means with a decline in “real” newspaper. I agree with Kelly – I would have appreciated more statistics and numbers to back up the claims the author was making. But, I also really appreciated the interactions he was having with people and I thought the quotes were great; it made the article very personal and enjoyable to read, and was fitting for the topic. I, too, appreciated the optimistic ending, as well as his comments about the problems the industry faces. However, I would’ve appreciated if the article spent a little bit more time on the issue of “fake news” and how to combat the problems that he describes. The article didn’t really leave me with any ideas or motivation to combat the challenges the changing industry faces, which I think the author could’ve done and it would have made the article stronger.

  7. Hi Bella, I thought that you brought up some really valid points about using algorithms for click bait. I think that I would have to disagree with Arjun to a certain extent however. I agree that algorithms are very efficient at tailoring news to the user and encouraging them to remain on the website for a longer period of time. In return, people spend more time reading about issues that they are interested in and exploring the various nuances regarding a topic. But the danger with algorithms is that they may be narrowing our lens. When reading this thread, I thought about the article that I had posted for my blog post a couple weeks earlier. I still remember a quote by one of the professors who said that You Tube’s algorithms keep people within their own “ecosystem” of ideas. They fail to incorporate more perspectives. It has been discussed numerous times in class, that biases in writing allows us to validate our own opinions and do little challenge the beliefs of those who oppose those ideas. While algorithms are useful and keep readers engaged, I think that in the future news/ex-newspaper organizations will have to present alternative perspectives in order to not serve a polarized portion of the population.

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