Tuesday, February 24, 2009

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Newspapers are Dying!

By Jon Hemmerdinger

You might think mainstream media outlets would avoid highlighting their own demise. Why call attention to your own dwindling relevance?

But more and more, the media seem to cover the very changes that threaten their lives: the forces of citizen journalism and the decline of city newspapers.

The prevalence of citizen journalism is witnessed every time major news breaks. It happened in the November terrorist attacks in Mumbai, when hostages sent twitter messages of the ordeal.
Twitter users are also said to have broken the story of the US Airways flight that glided into the Hudson River.

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy," tweeted one witness from a ferry boat on the scene.

Most recently, citizen journalist Anthony Trigilio posted online video on YouTube of the fire and mayhem following the crash of Continental flight 3407, which plummeted from the skies above Buffalo on Feb. 12.

But as citizen journalism has grown, so too has the mainstream media's coverage of the phenomenon.

The twittering Mumbai news breakers were highlighted in the Dec. 2 Los Angeles Times piece, "Mumbai news fished from Twitter’s rapids," by David Sarno. "Once a way for friends to keep each other updated on daily routines," writes Sarno, "Twitter is now looking more like a legitimate medium for short bits of information."

In a Jan. 16 blog called "Can a Tweet be a Scoop?" The New York Times called attention to the twitter-user who was among the first to make known the U.S. Airways crash.

And shortly after the Buffalo crash, the Buffalo News posted a story on it's website called YouTube and the Crash, in which a Buffalo News reporter interviewed Trigilio about his experience as a citizen journalist.

"Everybody seems to have their own little onsite-reporter-thing going on," Trigilio said.
It seems the mainstream media is covering the very forces that have caused the industry so much heartache in recent years.

There are other examples.

In a Feb. 11 article in The Wall Street Journal titled, "Why You Don't Want to Die on a Sunday in Detroit," Jeffery Zaslow examines how Detroit may be affected when the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News reduce home delivery of the newspaper to three days a week next month.

Here's another similar recent example. On Feb. 5, NPR ran a story called, "Imagining a City Without It's Daily Newspaper," which looks at how a city—Hartford, Conn. and the Hartford Courant are the examples used—would be affected if the city's daily newspaper ceases operations altogether.

And though the NPR story makes a good point of telling why newspapers are important to society, the story doesn't hide from the fact that newspapers are in decline. The first graph reads: "Financial analysts say they expect some big dailies to fold, perhaps as soon as this year."

But though it may seem odd for the media to cover it's own problems, maybe this is a good sign for the industry; perhaps these are examples of the media beginning to accept the changing world of the news. Maybe that's first step to adapting.

Or, maybe it's reverse-psychology: stories about dwindling relevance might actually prove that traditional news companies are more relevant than we think.

Writer Jon Hemmerdinger lives in Washington DC and is a graduate student in journalism at Georgetown University.

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