The print media in the US is facing the greatest financial crisis since its inception – essentially caused by the internet which has changed the way entire generations get their news. But I am getting ahead of myself ………………
When I was about twelve years old while living in Mombasa (Kenya), my father got on my case about the fact that I did not read the newspaper and was therefore ill-informed about what was going on it the world. He pestered me to a point where I started to read the paper reluctantly and with some resentment. Interestingly, over time I developed a genuine fascination with current affairs and politics – an interest that has stayed with me ever since. Now this was before the days when TV was available in Kenya – and the only sources of news were the newspaper and BBC radio transmissions which I also listened to avidly as it crackled through our short-wave radio.
It was a remarkable time in Kenya because the movement to gain independence from Britain was in full swing so there was a lot going on – and one did not have to be a political junkie to be enthralled with the nationalism that was prevalent and the efforts by the white settlers with their privileged life to thwart the freedom struggle. In time to come, after I moved to England and then to the US, my interest never waned – it just morphed into politics and other happenings in the country that I lived.
I came to appreciate my father’s admonitions to be an informed individual – though it was not a sentiment that I felt at the time. I will add that I tried to do the same thing with each of my children with remarkably little success – actually, at times it seemed that they reacted to my attempts to get them interested in the news by almost developing an aversion of sorts to listening or reading about current events, etc. I will add that my grandson, DJ, seems to show some level of interest in listening to the news, etc – though I am not sure whether it is something that he does in my presence to keep me happy!
Well, the years have rolled on and my interest has never really diminished – but what has happened is that my sources of information have become more varied and abundant with the advent of the internet. What is unusual for someone of my generation, is that I have gone off the print media and my only source of information nowadays is the the net – and for me it is almost a dream come true that I can read the news from almost any part of the world and a wide variety of sources with the click of a mouse!
I am clearly not typical of my generation – most of my generation still relies on the conventional newspaper for their news. But my children’s generation almost eschew the print media in just about any form and therein lies the crisis facing the conventional news media today.
Most people in their twenties and thirties are totally reliant on the net for their news – and there is no indication of a reversal of this trend. With it has come a decline in newspaper circulation and because of this decline there has also been a corresponding adverse impact on advertising in the print media. So esteemed newspapers are facing serious financial problems including bankruptcy – this includes newspapers ranging from the New York Times to the Chicago Tribune. The largest circulation paper in the US – USA Today – is bleeding badly. Many small town local papers have folded. One associates obsolescence with technology – but it is not an exaggeration to say that newspapers are becoming obsolete.
All of this has immense implications because the type of resources that old media put into investigative reporting may end up being a thing of the past. Can one imagine Watergate ever having been uncovered without the resources and influence of the Washington Post? Digital media – at least at this point – does not have the resources to do the kind of investigative journalism that the conventional news media used to do.
Attempts by media companies to generate revenues from those who access the net for news has not been successful. Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate, is making noises about taking on Google in an effort to prevent free access to news sites he controls. This is a major event since it pits the most powerful media magnate with a major internet player and the most used search engine. Supporters of Murdoch say it is a confrontation that had to come sooner or later – detractors say that Murdoch is out of touch and represents an industry that is unable to adapt to the times. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.
I don’t know if what is happening in the US is occurring elsewhere in the world. I suspect that in any country where people have ready access to the net, the media are faced with the same challenge. One of the exceptions to the trend is in India where newspapers are as powerful and financially viable as ever because advertising revenues are significant and show no signs of abating since circulation remains strong. Of course internet access is still very limited in India in relation to the population – but it will be a while before the print media in India is faced with the sort of challenge that it is confronting in the US and other parts of the world.