The Madison, Wisconsin daily newspaper The Capital Times will cease printing this Saturday, and will continue as a Web-only publication. The Capital Times is the progressive, afternoon paper in the city, has been publishing since 1917. While they move their emphasis online, they will continue to provide print pieces on a twice weekly basis to be contained within other publications. This is one of the first, long-standing newspapers to go this route. I predict that we will see more of this. As the newspaper industry experiences a downturn, and continues to lose readers of print products, the players will have to adjust. There is just too much expense associated with printing and distributing paper.
But, the transition will be difficult. There are still people who love their printed broadsheet. Personally, I would miss my Sunday NY Times, should they go completely online. And, I do subscribe to Wired, even though I could read the whole thing on my computer. Others have formed daily habits around reading the newspaper. How the market reacts to The Capital Times shift will be an interesting experiment, with lessons learned for all.
On a related note, a shockwave went through the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at my school, Texas State University, when we heard about journalism departments being discontinued or cut at two universities, Howard Payne University in Brownwood, TX and Florida International University in Miami. A few years back, Texas A&M dropped their journalism major.
Recently, an email from Columbia’s Dean of the School of Journalism Nicholas Lemann to the university president was leaked expressing his uneasiness about the future of journalism education. My opinion…well I just see media everywhere around us, professional and amateur. Maybe the old ways of doing things are being reconsidered, might even be unprofitable and non-productive. Like any industry, journalism needs to adapt. Students need to be trained to operate in the media field, regardless of the medium in which they will be working. The general population needs literacy about new media topics. I just don’t see the need for media education to decline, but we definitely need to adjust and redefine the curriculum to make it relevant for the environment in which students will be participating and leading.
And, I don’t think the problem has to do with comedy shows or late-night talk show hosts. People are just engaging with media in different ways now. Instead of reading a paper once a day and watching an evening newscast, people are constantly exposed to news and information throughout their day. They get it via RSS feeds and blogs. They get it on Yahoo and Google News. And, yes, they get information from The Daily Show and Colbert Report. But, these shows wouldn’t be considered funny nor would they have garnered success if their demographic didn’t get the joke. Who cares where people get their information, as long as they are getting it? There’s a reason why so many, particularly young people, have turned to comedy shows for their news. The other news outlets lost their edge. This happens with any industry that has few players. The 24-hour news stations repeated the same boring drivel all day long; newspapers, in which most towns just have one, did not reflect diverse voices. There was little analysis of the important issues, just a horse race mentality that cared more about who was ahead in what polls, focusing on a candidate’s particular snafu of the day, and failing to question crucial decisions our government made in regard to war and foreign policy. And, there was no way for the audience to express their displeasure and provide feedback, develop communities.
Until the Web. Thank goodness for the Web. Otherwise, who would wake these folks up? I mean, Jon Stewart is only one man. He can call Tucker Carlson a dick, ultimately get him fired, but that’s not going to affect the hundreds of other talking heads out there, unless there’s a groundswell, and groundswell is the result of community.
It’s our job as academics to provide the framework around discussions of these trends, to better prepare our students as communicators and citizens, to better prepare them for a media world in which feedback is immediate and stories are told by a community rather than a single person. And, it’s our job to help the industry comprehend the issues and do better for our democracy.