A recent article in “GOVERNING” pointed out, again, the worries over the loss of newspapers and journalism. It was recently announced that people in Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville, Alabama and, New Orleans, will now join the ranks of other cities with only part-time delivery of news in print which not only includes the paper I used to deliver, the Ann Arbor News, but the Detroit News and Free Press.
As the economics of media shift and change, speculation aside, no one really has the solution for what will succeed next. Blogging and social media are valuable – but what is popular is not always important. What is important is not always popular.
Some have proposed newsletters and more information from the government. More information can be good, but it is information, from the government.
What’s lost in much of the angst is that the “sweet spot” of journalism’s last century or so was driven by economics. Attempts at impartial news coverage, of trying to focus on facts without bias, is a fairly new thing. The earliest “newspapers” 500 and more years ago were by the church, then the state. When Benjamin Franklin’s brother started his “independent” newspaper in Boston, the powerful in Boston were not pleased. Ben and his brother left town not long after.
The unease and change in newspapers is not new. Newspapers have opened and closed for centuries. The difference, now, is that we live in a culture where information is very important to survival, but fact-based information is becoming less economically viable.
Dylan Ratigan posted figures a while ago that sound about right:
In 1980, there were .45 Public Relations professionals versus .36 Journalists per 100,000 people. By 2008, the figures had changed to .90 PR pros to .25 Journalists per 100,000.
Twice as many PR people per capita, a third fewer journalists.
There is more information than ever before. How a citizen gets facts versus spin is an ongoing challenge. But in the escalation of information, expect even more PR pros in the future. Probably fewer journalists.
Here’s hoping journalists are good finding the facts amidst the spin. And the public is good at finding the journalists.