Last week, major newspaper companies posted second-quarter profits, providing an inkling of hope that the industry has not flat lined yet. The New York Times Company, McClatchy, Media General and Gannett, which combined own more than 150 daily newspapers across the country, recorded market gains despite decreasing ad revenue as a result of staff reductions and other aggressive cost-cutting measures. Headlines declared a minor victory for print, emblazoned by these four companies.
But that’s the problem. An industry whose well-being hinges on the value of a few major companies cannot survive. Conglomeration has turned newspapers into homogenized posters for uninspired stories, and reporters are afraid to investigate when an expose could cost them their jobs. In March, The Huffington Post launched an investigative journalism fund, because, as this article notes:
Huffington said she and the donors were concerned that layoffs at newspapers were hurting investigative journalism at a time the nation’s institutions need to be watched closely. She hopes to draw from the ranks of laid-off journalists for the venture.
As long as journalists fear losing their positions on any of the newspapers owned by a few giants, newspapers will not survive.
And as new media strains the newspaper industry with immediate headlines and constantly changing articles, newspapers no longer hold the same import. In the morning, the front page boldly declares what happened yesterday, while the computer screen glows with what’s happening now. Newsprint is the town crier, dressed elaborately and trying desperately to communicate an established royal proclamation to the streets, blindly ignoring the more interesting and communally divisive brawl behind him.
Even if the reporting is flimsy, even if anyone can blog and write articles, at least new media journalists are not afraid to write controversial stories. Perhaps because the Internet is so vast, so unconstrained, new media has not yet fallen victim to the same conglomeration, safe in the tangled web of cyber-journalism. Newspapers cannot compete with real free press.