The evolving fate of journalism

Journalism is not a dying field – so stop saying it is


Collegian File Photo

By Derek Hunter, Collegian Columnist

It seems nowadays that many people have ill-conceived notions about the future of journalism. I have heard time and again from friends, teachers and family that “journalism is a dying field” in which I should not get involved. These concerns usually come from a good place, as those who voice them want to dissuade me from making a mistake. But while the sentiment is nice, the fear is misplaced. Journalism is not dying, rather, it is evolving into something completely new and unprecedented.

Regardless, these woeful sentiments are something any journalist in the field or in school will inevitably hear. So, where do they come from?

The age-old conceptions of what journalism should be have been completely turned on their head in recent decades. To many, journalism is now a shell of what it used to be. The journalism of the mid- to late-20th century is no longer. Older generations remember what the profession used to be, especially during the latter half of the 20th century. From Watergate to the Vietnam War, the field went through a revolution in championing objectivity and evolving reporting tactics. These years are far behind us, however, and a great many things have changed.

Lack of faith in journalism as a profession is a relatively new phenomenon, due chiefly to the rapid pace of technological advancement. Nothing has changed the profession like the internet has. In order to better understand these changes, one must understand how each sector of the profession has fared over time. Since the early 2000s, newspapers have had a steady decline in circulation, advertising and staffing. Cable news audience numbers have stayed steady in daytime news but have been decreasing in evening news. Meanwhile, local TV news has experienced lower audience numbers and decreased advertising, though there has been steady employment. Across each of these mediums, especially print, the media has not fared as successfully as it did in recent decades. Cable news television has become the main source of information for most Americans, yet it is also the source of some of the most disliked sources of news.

Digital media is a different story, however, as it has experienced gains in audience members, advertising and employment in recent years. These data reflect the probable future of the media — it will move increasingly online. As a result, interest in the long-held forms of journalism has dropped significantly, and audiences are becoming increasingly uninterested in traditional media. While there are generational differences, more and more people are getting their news online and on social media, especially the youth. This has changed the way in which many media organizations go about their reporting, with the focus shifting to online revenue. This has also changed the other forms of media as some of the largest media organizations have become more partisan in their reporting, partly as a way to retain the audiences that trust them, but also as a way to generate support for the organization.

Obviously, journalism isn’t going anywhere. It serves a vital function in any democracy and is the central means through which the public is informed. What naysayers fail to realize is that the media is as important today as it was at any other time. No matter what side of the aisle you’re on, you still rely on journalists to keep politicians accountable for their actions. You rely on local news to tell you about what goes on in your town.

Yes, the state of media today is unlike anything before. The long-held traditions in the field are being turned upside down and many are scrambling trying to figure out what to do next. But that’s what is most important: The internet is what’s next. You’re reading this piece I’ve written for an online platform on the internet. Two-thirds of American adults use social-media to get some of their news. Major news organizations post hundreds of articles every day for consumption. That doesn’t sound like a dying field to me.

Derek Hunter is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]