The Next Generation of News

The fate of the printed press will rest in your hands. Or rather, at your fingertips. In fact, you are becoming part of this media shift as you read this article -- not in print, but online.

According to the latest reports from the Newspaper Association of America, newspaper readership continues to drop, going from 62.4 percent in 1990 to 54.1 percent in 2003. In an extreme case, the San Francisco Chronicle reported a 16 percent decline in sales from March 2005 to September 2005.

Part of that decline has to do with how people like me get the news. It's not that I'm choosing to be uninformed and not reading the news anymore. In fact, I'm more in tune with what's happening than ever before. While copies of my printed local daily newspaper, The Davis Enterprise, sit on the stands collecting dust, I'm online getting my news for free.

These days, who has time to read the lengthy daily newspapers when there's laundry to be done and quarters to be salvaged? I want to see my news delivered in up-to-the-minute free byte-sized pieces -- and thanks to the BBC Online and CNN, I'm saving lots of quarters for laundry.

That's good news for me, but bad news for the newspaper industry. Unknown to many newsreaders, the digital age is wreaking havoc on printed newspapers -- both in readership and in classified advertising.

Classified advertising is the backbone of the newspaper industry. The money from classifieds funds a significant portion (27 percent, according to a December 11th article in the LA Times) of a newspaper's budget. Even my high school newspaper survived solely because our advertising efforts paid for the paper's printing.

But with the rise of sites like Craigslist.org, which provide the same classified advertising that newspapers do -- but for free -- newspapers are facing a huge loss in revenue. According to a November 30th article in the SF Weekly, Craigslist.org takes away $50 million a year in revenue from Bay Area newspapers. I still remember the days when searching for a job, a car, a house, or even grocery coupons took place through the daily newspaper. Now, one can accomplish the same tasks online without paying a dime.

Major metropolitan dailies, such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The San Jose Mercury, and The Los Angeles Times are trimming down their staff and their text in the wake of declining readership and revenue. As a result, the quality of newspapers are suffering and young journalists such as myself will have a more difficult time finding a job. I received a letter from The Oregonian saying that they cannot have their summer internship program because of "budget cuts." Uh-oh.

On the bright side, I believe that the digital era of journalism will usher in a new system of news reporting. The next generation of reporters must work harder and faster (and unfortunately, for less pay) to develop news for the next generation of news consumers.

It is a transition that I witnessed as a newspaper intern for The Visalia Times-Delta when it launched an online breaking news section. Reporters would upload a short five-paragraph preview of their story and update the story as it developed. The final story would appear in the newspaper the next day.

I wondered why the newspaper would instantly offer its latest news for free. My editor told me that many of Visalia's residents were frequently visiting the newspaper's Web site, so this was a way of reaching out and retaining them as readers.

Newspapers' websites are also helping newspapers retain advertisers, too. According to a December 11th article in The Los Angeles Times, the readership at newspaper sites overall is up 11 percent in the last year to 39 million. "Newspapers are seeing a rapid rise of online advertising revenue to $2 billion," according to the article. It may mean more pop-up ads for newspaper readers, but the press will survive.

As long as there are still people who read and make the news, journalism will still have a place in society. The Internet and the digitalization of the daily metropolitan is only fueling the reader's ease to find out about the latest events developing in their community. A generation that loved the smell of a freshly printed newspaper will be replaced by a generation that loves the speed of digital text loading through DSL.

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