If we fail to support our print media through subscriptions and advertising, we have a great deal to lose as individuals, as a community and as a nation. The loss of local in-depth coverage sets the stage for my concern. Hopefully the following will explain my rationale.
As background: The legal definition of “freedom of the press” provides for “the right to publish and disseminate information, thoughts, and opinions without restraint or censorship”. This right is guaranteed under the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution (the same amendment that protects our “freedom of speech”).
My underlying concern is the shrinking number of free expression opportunities with the loss of free competing news marketers. When major newspapers and news media consolidate via acquisition and mergers, we fall victim to bias political expressions of the ownership. As consolidation continues, it represents a loss of free speech and dissenting opinions. You can also see this happening within the digital and broadcast media. For example, we see and hear the strong bias and opinion makers with Fox News and CNN News.
Unfortunately, news in many media outlets are not reporting news, but opinions. When media outlets become larger — including some major newspapers, i.e., the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and others — they tend to focus their messages on opinions rather than reporting factual news. We, the general populace, lose!
Trends developing today are concerning. In the short period of 14 years (2004-2018), we have lost more than 1,800 newspapers (516 rural newspapers and 1,294 metropolitan) that have closed or merged. Such loss is reducing citizens access to free thinking and in-depth reporting on local issues and government. For example, the loss of local happenings in sports, court news, city council and county commissioners meetings. Where would you get this information without your local newspaper?
“Local news organizations are the glue that binds communities, reminding us every day of our collective identity, the stake we have in one another, and the lessons of history.” — www.savingcommunityjournalism.com.
What will actually happen when print newspapers start to disappear in large numbers. Will print readers just become digital readers? Will the free thinking citizens spend as much time consuming local journalism on their phones or IPads as they do reading the newspaper at their breakfast tables? It’s doubtful. Electronic media, with its 15-second “breaking news” flash, has never been equal to the print media’s in-depth reporting.
A recent survey suggests most print readers read the newspaper “almost everyday.” Online media visitors read a story, on average, a little over twice a month. Also, print readers spend on average, 37 to 50 minutes with each daily edition. Online media readers spend, on average, less than 6 minutes a month reading. Outstanding newspapers generally provide more than one political view as it needs to reach a wider audience to survive, such as the columns identified as “From the Left” and “From the Right” on the The Bryan Times opinion page every day.
Understandably, newspapers leaving print media and going digital is the ultimate cost-cutting measure. After all, publishing a newspaper is a business! A business that relies on sufficient advertising revenues to overcome increasing production expenses. However, when the day comes to change to digital (even if it helps a newspaper’s bottom line) studies show its audience isn’t likely to follow along. That means accepting a dramatic decline in reach, influence and impact.
Also and most unfortunately, we see increasing incidences of abusive free speech on the digital electronic social media platforms. Plus we have the abuse by foreign interests through “hacking” and manipulation of the internet/electronic media, i.e. our 2016 election process.
Social Media is becoming a ‘free-for-all’ to express non-factual information and opinions, which understandably is a form of free speech. Unfortunately, it is also an abuse of rights. What can one say other than Caveat Emptor — Let the buyer (reader) beware!
In my judgement, there will ultimately be some form of government control (restrictions) or limitations. Such action, when it occurs, will infringe on our First Amendment Rights and bring about more government control. I’m sure no one wants to see a ‘state controlled media’ such as exists in Russia, China and many other countries. Seriously, consider the consequences of the loss of print media.
Bottom line, all print and digital media should adopt the The Bryan Times policy of “Honesty and Integrity in Journalism.” If we did, we would be far better off as a country.
Duane Fox is a retired corporate officer, a past director for a 100-year-old American corporation, a past president and current director of a Florida condominium association, an avid fly fisherman and an occasional contributor to The Bryan Times.