It’s a strange thing to be a part of the newspaper industry this young. Disclosing my majors to people (english and professional writing and communication) already has the effect of a tranquilizer on those who will forever be uninterested in studying prose. But to be a young journalist? Then—then people have opinions.
It literally takes anyone with a set of eyes to see just how invested everyone is in technology. Given that I’m a 20-something university student, I’m not going to deny that I’m also one of those people. However, when it comes to obtaining information, especially the news, I prefer to give the edge to print media. I’m biased, of course, given that I’m a journalist myself. But I also understand just how badly this industry is tanking, and what’s at stake for all of us if it disappears entirely.
Just last year, NiemanLab published an article specifying how many hits news outlets were receiving through social media or their websites. They reported, “As of January, a remarkable 39 of the 50 most popular news sites had more mobile than desktop visitors. Four of the top 50 had similar desktop and mobile traffic, and just seven sites had more desktop than mobile traffic, the report said, citing comScore data.”
This is the tip of the iceberg regarding problems that the industry is facing. Consumers buried in their phones will rely heavily on whatever news they can obtain on the subway to work. I don’t blame them. It’s evolution. Print to digital was bound to happen and it’s not just the newspaper that’s being replaced by technology. But if large news outlets are seeing huge drops like this, then where does that leave the campus paper on the hierarchy?
The campus paper is already lesser known than other outlets—at least some are. It’s because of this that oftentimes we’re not taken as serious as the newspaper giants that people may be familiar with. I came to The Medium in 2012, and I’ve heard countless complaints or requests for us to break protocol or grant some sort of unjustified leniency.
In addition to this, the majority of suggestions I receive for improvement center around including more visuals, such as comics or photos. We should boost our online presence. The majority of suggestions passed down to me ask for the fun we appear to be missing.
These are the very things that John Oliver discussed in his piece about journalism.
“It is clearly smart for newspapers to expand online, but the danger in doing that is the temptation to gravitate towards whatever gets the most clicks, which is why news organizations badly need to have leaders who appreciate that what’s popular isn’t always what’s most important,” Oliver said of the industry.
And it’s exactly this point that summarizes how I feel about journalism. I stand firm on reporting news rather than settling for clicks. I never got into this job to report on things I didn’t think mattered. Student or not, I took my job as a journalist seriously since I started here four years ago.
I don’t need to go beyond my social circle to see how many of my friends are more attracted to writing listicles than they are delving deep into a story that probably won’t get as many hits. Their work is more interesting for them. It’s more interesting for readers. It’s probably a smarter career move too. I don’t judge them for their work, and I’m not trying to say that the work they’re producing is less important, because it’s not. What I am saying, however, is that a student paper focuses on different things, and therefore needs to deal with different levels of heat from the public. Student journalism tends to get swept under the rug as the “lesser” journalism. We’re young. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’ll blindly ditch journalistic practices. We’re inexperienced. We’re not serious.
Admittedly, a quick pop over to Buzzfeed, for example, and it doesn’t take long to see where this stereotype comes from. The cover story on their homepage is “Oh My God, These Cats Look Adorably Dumb When They Sleep”, accompanied by a photo of three cats with ridiculous looks on their faces. Off to the side rests a column featuring several news articles. The top story is about a woman facing up to life in prison for selling heroin to a buyer who overdosed. But the topics quickly deteriorate into “A Man Accidentally Bear Sprayed His Junk And Got Naked To Wash It Off”. At the end of the day, what do I honestly expect to get more views? Do people want to unload for a few minutes reading about a heroin dealer or watching hilarious cats? I’m not naïve enough to think the answer isn’t the latter.
And unfortunately, from where I’m sitting, this is where the industry is headed in order to stay relevant.
What makes it worse is that there are leaders in the field who agree that newspapers should sacrifice their integrity to keep up with the shallow digital age.
A perfect example of this is in Oliver’s piece where viewers get to see Sam Zell in action.
Oliver reports that Zell took it upon himself to take over the Tribune company, a company that owns papers such as Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, and Chicago Tribune. After he took over the company, Zell delivered a speech to the staff of the Orlando Sentinel to discuss his plans for the paper.
A video clip of Zell is then shown delivering his speech to the group of journalists. He is quoted as saying, “You need to, in effect, help me by being a journalist that focuses on what our readers want and therefore, generate more revenue.”
A clearly knowledgeable journalist then comments that what the public wants “are puppy dogs, and we also need to inform the community –”
Zell then interrupts her to say, “You’re giving me the classic, what I would call journalistic arrogance of deciding that puppies don’t count. Hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq, okay?” He then ends his, ironically enough, ignorant spiel by telling her “fuck you”.
This classless display of power is just one of the many problems that occur when those who don’t understand the industry try to take hold of it. What’s even scarier is that these are the types of “leaders” who either held or currently hold power over journalists who no longer have a say in what they cover. Newspapers are rapidly losing ad revenue, laying off their employees, and contributing to click-bait articles that reach the masses. Put guys like this in charge, who clearly have no idea what they’re doing, and these so-called leaders are the ones who exacerbate these problems.
So, where does that leave campus papers?
I’d like to think that I’ll continue to run this paper as well as other editors-in-chief have. We’ve never been shy of covering things that could get us into hot water, or even things that have succeeded in doing so. Investigative journalism is essentially the backbone of this industry, especially for a group of rotating editors being forced to prove themselves every year.
That being said, I’m not necessarily trying to prove my worth to anyone. I’m trying to be a good leader and a good journalist. I’m always open to suggestions from the public, but unwilling to sacrifice important news stories for the sake of appealing to more readers. Informing students is just as important as anything else and shouldn’t take a backseat.
I’m also aware that click-bait and investigative journalism are different, but the problem is assuming that every young journalist is willing to give up everything they’ve worked towards in order to stay relevant.
The only thing more insulting than being grouped into the band of young journalists and ignorant leaders pissing on the industry is to be told that this paper doesn’t matter. My own friends have made ludicrous comments that this paper lacks importance because we’re only covering campus news. Everyone please prepare yourselves while I burst your bubble, but campus papers are just as important to young journalists as, say, the Toronto Star would be to its journalists. We take our jobs seriously regardless of who we write for.