In the past two decades with the rise of the internet and social media, the way we gather news and information has changed drastically. In 2007, iPhones introduced themselves to the public and changed the way we communicated. With the rise of social media and the opportunity for a phone to do more than just call and text, it was as if we had entered a new era.
Coincidentally in 2007, the King County Journal in Kent closed due to loss of money. This had been a problem for quite a few years even though they were ranked “the region’s fifth-largest daily paper.” With a paper that big having to make the decision to close for good, we can only ask ourselves this: what’s changed over the past decade or two in regards to journalism?
Social media has played a huge part in diverting attention away from newspapers and/or online sources. According to the Pew Research Center’s article about news consumption across social media, around half of Americans obtain some of their news on social media. Some of the top platforms for gaining information are Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. But of course, this raises the opportunity for the spread of falsified news.
Fake news has only grown within the last year and continues to rise as more and more of it is viewed through platforms such as social media. Within the top 100 news sources, there was a nine percentage point increase of social media engagement that was claimed dubious from 2019 to 2020. We reached a 17 percent watch-rate last year in 2020.
In 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped printing. The loss was devastating because the Post-Intelligencer was Seattle’s oldest newspaper dating back to 1863. It was as if we had lost a piece of history. The Post-Intelligencer then became the first newspaper in the country to switch to an online-only publication. But even so, the switch and the 140 newsroom jobs disappearing made the whole situation feel like a death rather than an upgrade.
The Seattle Times had to cut staff prior to 2009 because they had lost large sums of money as well. In fact, 30 percent of the newspaper journalist industry lost their jobs between 2001 to 2009 and in Seattle, the percentage was double that. Between the years 2008 and 2020 newsroom employment dropped by 26 percent.
With newspapers switching to online or closing completely, papers such as the Chronicle in Centralia switched their paper from a daily to a weekly. At this point, we might be asking ourselves about how this all connects.
It’s no surprise that people tend to gain their information from online sources and papers since it’s so accessible and free. That’s why this sudden change is taking place as our world becomes a digital one. There are costs to printing newspapers and consumers have to buy them relative to the free online option. Although going online seems the best course of action, there are some pieces missing from this effortless transition.
As newspapers end, go online or change, we are left with news deserts. News deserts are a new way of saying that a community or county is going without news coverage. Almost 200 counties in the United States go without a daily or weekly newspaper. That means that 3.2 million residents don’t get news coverage. This is major!
With counties left without coverage, they don’t have a voice or a way to spread awareness of different issues within their community. They can still find outside coverage of large-scale issues, but their town doesn’t get any exposure.
Along with the major-scale news deserts, there are also small-scale news deserts. 1,449 counties across the United States have only one paper covering them. Due to this, it often leaves only the information deemed important covered. That means a lot of “small issues” don’t get covered because the paper doesn’t have enough time and resources to track down every small story.
Local journalism is important in telling a town’s history. It’s important for people to know what is going on where they live and to be gaining full coverage. A lot of businesses rely on ads to survive and papers are that advertisement. What does this mean for their future?
We can’t stop the process of time, and time is moving us into a digital age. Is it best if we just embrace online news coverage?
Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know what the future may bring. But we do know that local coverage is dwindling. And a part of it is the lack of readers.
Readers have switched to social media or seeing what the person they look up to said on their platform. Most people just scroll through news articles on their phone. We all do it. But what about the poor or the old? What about those who can’t afford devices or who don’t have the resources to learn how to use them? What about the uneducated? We are leaving these vulnerable citizens out of the loop on issues affecting everyone.
We don’t have all the answers yet and the controversy over whether printed or online papers has been going on for two decades now. But we can provide insight into our role.
As a student-run paper for college students, we are shifting with what works for our community, and right now that means online publication. Our role here is to provide knowledge for you so that you are given all the news needed in order to make wise decisions. Papers will always miss something (that’s why it’s important to follow multiple papers to cross-check your sources), but we will do our best to present nothing but the truth.
Right now is a harrowing time in being aware of how and where we get our news coverage and how journalism is changing as a whole. I have faith that the future will be brighter, but right now we need to do our part in supporting local papers so that our county doesn’t become the next county without coverage.