After listening to Penny Abernathy’s presentation a second time today in a different class, I decided it was time to give my own two cents. First, let me preface this by saying what an impressive job Prof. Abernathy has done with this research. It’s encouraging to meet people within the journalism school who have been in the newspaper business for decades and still look at it optimistically. For better or for worse, this is my chosen field and I like to hear that the blood, sweat and tears are all worth it.
One of the most important points in the presentation was the large role newspapers play in maintaining a democracy. Although the majority of a paper is objective news, the editorial staff has an open opportunity to take a stand on any issue in the name of the publication. Even if print readers are decreasing, a strong editorial still has the ability to set tongues wagging (just look at Indy Star’s recent front page). Now that’s a statement. Whether you agree with the opinion or not, editorials offer more dialogue among American citizens, and that’s supporting one of the core tenets of democracy. Also, as Prof. Abernathy mentioned, newspapers have the ability to improve the lives of citizens, encourage economic development and get readers involved in the community. If all that doesn’t get you excited about the field of journalism, then I don’t know what will. Journalists are charged with such an incredible duty.
However, despite all of this important work, parts of the presentation seemed like the same ol’ sad song playing on repeat. Print newspapers are dying out, the companies behind them are tanking, the glory days of papers have gone. And still, no one knows what to do about it. This is aimed at the majority of the journalism field. Don’t tell me it’s bad; I know that already! Tell me what we can do to fix it. Scholars are not afraid to give guidelines on how to move forward, but in terms of concrete advice, there isn’t any. Don’t tell us that newspapers need a new business model; tell us what these new models could possibly be. Don’t tell us that advertisers are jumping ship; suggest how we can create a model independent of advertising revenue.
Enough talk! I’m ready for the newest batch of journalists (myself included) to get in there and make it happen. Luckily, I think Prof. Abernathy is trying to do just that, but a 45-minute presentation isn’t enough time to explain it all. It’s time to get some mud on our boots and focus more on finding a solution rather than highlighting the problem. In the words of John Clark, “newspapers made their bed with the advertisers, but now the advertisers are sleeping with someone else.” It’s time for some change, and Hell hath no fury like that of a paper scorned.