I teach a course in media production and alongside media theory, design, publishing and video editing is a unit on the current state of journalism. Anyone who follows the media would be aware that the print media is facing tough times. Circulation is down, as are advertising revenues. Journalists are losing their jobs and media moguls are desperately trying to make money in the digital realm.
A documentary illustrating the plight of print media is Page One: Inside The New York Times. The film, released in 2010, examines whether the print edition of the newspaper is sustainable and the consequences for investigative reporting. Who will expose corruption if there is no money to fund top quality journalists?
The documentary echoes the uncertain future faced in many professions, not just media. Like species, jobs either become extinct or adapt. I took the What Was Your Medieval Profession Quiz and discovered I was a Cartographer – in today’s language a non-fiction writer or a scientist.
Similarly, journalists are the modern equivalent of pamphleteers. If you were literate and had access to a printing press you could distribute pamphlets exposing the corruption of aristocracy, the church and political shenanigans. Our print newspapers have performed much the same function as the pamphlets nailed to doors in public arenas.
Print media is morphing into digital. Many writers are bloggers who provide information and resources for free. Journalists will inevitably adapt to this change and smaller digital operations will become the norm.
Big media corporations don’t necessarily enhance the flow of information. They can impede, prevent and manufacture the truth, particularly military and corporate corruption. For every Watergate exposing illegal political phone tapping there is a Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal. For every Fairfax there is a Murdoch. There are many opinionated Fox News reporters but only one Julian Assange. The journalist who exposes government dirty dealings is very rare indeed.
Journalists can have an inflated sense of importance. They can’t stop corruption and the world will not end if print newspapers become digital. Accepting rather than opposing change creates opportunities that may offer a brave new world instead.