Thursday, September 17, 2009

The world of newspapers

Written in May 2009

In choosing a media issue to write about, it is kind of hard to narrow down an issue to just one as there are many important media issues right now that are well known. But, an important media issue that is picking up more traction is the issue of the collapse and possible impending demise of the newspaper industry. The newspaper has played an important role in shaping the development of the United States of America since the colonial era, from the John Peter Zenger trial, to the publication of the Federalist Papers, to the Watergate scandal, newspapers have been there in shaping the growth of the American nation. But, almost with every new technological invention from the radio to the television to the internet, the newspaper medium has taken hits that threaten its position, and now seems to be facing the position of a veteran fighter trying to last just one more round as the very survival of the newspaper is threatened.

Having a successful newspaper was once likened as having a license to print money, but as with all things times have changed that former situation. There had been a lot of talk in recent years that the newspaper industry was in serious trouble. Some have even said that the impending demise could have been seen as far back as the 1970’s. Newspaper columnists had been getting bought out by their papers as a quarter of newspaper jobs have disappeared since 1990, classified departments have been getting smaller and smaller, and newspaper size had also been getting smaller. Writers have been predicting the collapse of the newspaper industry for years now and in just the first five months of 2009, it appears that the prophecy has started to come to fulfillment as there has been a staggering amount of newspaper collapses. The oldest newspapers in the states of Colorado and Arizona both went out of business. The Boston Globe came close to closing its doors, and several large newspaper companies such as the New York Times and Tribune Corporation have been seriously devalued. Major cities are facing the impending possibility of having no major newspapers for the city. In the city of Detroit home newspaper delivery has been reduced in a model that could eventually spread to other cities as a cost reducing measure. Newspapers such as the New York Times have also had to increase prices in an attempt to retain ever shrinking profit margins. The advertising revenue that the newspapers depended on for so long is drying up and the model for newspaper profitability appears to be broken and in need of serious repair.
The newspaper has been a part of America since 1690, even before the establishment of some of the colonies. For many years newspapers thrived in America as they were the main source of information for Americans to know about the globe and even other parts of America that they had never visited. Newspaper writers helped shape public opinion and provided entertainment, sports, critiques, weather, advice, and comedy. The power of the newspaper was so great at one point that William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer filled their newspapers with incendiary headlines to help get the U.S. involved in the Spanish-American war of 1898. Newspapers were also instrumental in social reforms such as the abolition movement and the temperance movement among others. Ethnic newspapers helped spread the news that was significant to a specific group such as immigrants or racial minorities and keep them informed of relevant issues. Newspapers were published with an morning edition, and a afternoon edition to provide news for the whole day. The relative length of time it took to get the news from one place to another helped the newspaper industry tremendously. But, one thing that the newspaper industry has not fared well with is technological developments in media.

Radio was one of the first mediums to deliver a blow to the newspaper industry as radio served some of the same functions that newspapers did. Radio also delivered news, sports information, weather, and entertainment. Unlike newspapers radio delivered this package in real-time and could be enjoyed in a setting where the whole family could enjoy it, unlike a newspaper which was designed for one person to read. The radio also provided listening as voices that were just words on a newspaper page came to life with rich sound. The newspapers in particularly the Associated Press tried to battle back against the advent of radio before realizing that they were in a battle they could not win and that it was better to cooperate with the rising industry.

Another technological advance that would put a serious dent on the newspaper industry was the invention of the television which started picking up popularity in the late 1940’s. Unlike radio which was just sound, television also provided picture images, and unlike newspapers television provided moving images. Television provided footage all over the country and the world and broadcast them streaming into the comfort of your own home. Television took the words read on a newspaper and provided the picture moving and had a much stronger effect on the populace as was shown in the Nixon/Kennedy debates of 1960. Reading and listening to the debates without the broadcast conveyed that Nixon won the debate, but watching on television the popular consensus was that Kennedy was the winner. The newspaper could never hope to have a similar effect. The evening news reduced the importance of the afternoon newspaper and the visual advantages that the newspapers retained even with radio were forever gone. Television did some of the same things that radio and newspaper did except on a bigger scale. Cable television and 24 hour news channels such as CNN and FOX have also hurt the newspapers. You could now get the latest breaking news at any hour of the day in your home further reducing the need for newspapers. But, the medium which has struck the newspaper industry harder than any others is the Internet or World Wide Web. The newspaper is not much different than television or the radio which is also had its influence wane due to the internet. The internet provides the exact same service as newspapers except in most cases you can get it for free on the web. Very few people want to buy something that they know that they can get for free. Classifieds can go on the internet for much cheaper than it would in the newspapers on sites like Craigslist and reach potentially a much larger audience. The news is updated much faster and the internet is interactive in real-time. The news in a newspaper does not update after it is printed like the news on the internet which is always updating. Newspaper stories themselves are printed on the internet and read for free. Newspapers have started their own web sites but they have yet to come close to the profits formerly generated by the printed papers. Blogs dedicated to a specific political point of view provide the slanted news that certain people want to read. One of the things that the internet and cable TV have brought about is the furthering of niche categories for people who are interested in only one subject, while most newspapers are of general interest trying to appeal to everybody. Another problem that the industry has faced is a failure to pick up newer younger readers which is a problem that has confounded the book industry also. Newspapers have a stigma of being outdated and out of touch. With inventions such as cell phones and portable videogames, young people have more things to keep them distracted on places like subways where in the past they would have most likely read newspapers. There has not been much of a fight to save the newspaper in America, just a series of countermoves to hope to stop the bleeding. In Europe there has been a much more concerted and successful effort to try to save the newspaper. Polish newspaper designer Jacek Utko has radically redesigned newspapers throughout Europe and has helped boost newspaper circulation by as much as 100%. But, even a dying patient may make a brief show of strength, and whether something as simple as a newspaper redesign which might be viewed as a gimmick, can work in America is unknown.

I started reading newspapers when I was 6 years old as form of current events homework and eventually I started reading newspapers for fun. My favorite newspaper was the New York Daily News and I liked the general quality of their pictures and the articles were easy to read. My own personal views on the apparent impending demise of the newspaper as it has traditionally been known are mostly that the newspaper is a great tool but facing the possibility of becoming a relic. I used to read a newspaper everyday at one point, and I always made sure to never miss the Sunday newspaper as they have the best classifieds. But, as time has gone on I now rarely buy the newspaper. I mostly only read the newspaper when I can get it for free or at a library. With the new ipod, I just read the New York Times articles on an app for free. I can go on craigslist to find job listings and things for sale. The Sunday newspaper which was so important no longer means anything to me, and the rising prices have been a turnoff for me in purchasing a newspaper and most of the news I need I find online. Also online there is a greater variety of news stories that you would not generally find in a regular newspaper. I worked in the advertising department of a community newspaper that had been recently purchased by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. My job was to get people to buy space in the classified section listing cars, homes, or jobs and I did it during February 2008. The manager who hired me told me that community newspapers were still going strong despite the decline of the newspaper business and things were still going robust for them. Once I started how different that was from the actual reality. What was once a business that sold itself now was something extremely difficult. Many people were reluctant to pay the advertising rates of the paper and expressed the opinion that they could advertise on the internet for cheaper or free. Some people even questioned whether anyone still read the newspaper or felt that the newspaper was becoming obsolete. I did not have too much success at the paper and I quit working there after a month as I felt that despite Murdoch’s billions the newspaper industry was a sinking ship that I didn’t want to stay on. The newspaper can be a great historical resource as a lot of historians use newspapers as a primary source. Newspapers are printed on paper and you can always look back at the paper some time later to see what was going on that time and they are easy to archive. Community newspapers are a great way to keep local communities abreast of situations facing the community and local events. Local businesses who might not have enough money to advertise on television or the bigger newspapers, can get their advertising placed in a local newspaper. But, the newspaper is another medium that it at a point where it faces becoming obsolete as its time has passed it by. The newspaper in my opinion can possibly survive, but not with the value and profit margins it was once capable of reaching, as there is too much service being provided for free on the internet for that to be possible. The business model that the newspaper uses is a model that is very old and obsolete. Technological advances have rendered them useless and there is no need to feel sympathy for something that has no use and needs to be changed. Trying to relive past glories that are no longer capable of being achieved is not the way to go, the industry must realize that those profits and influence it once wielded is gone and undergo a transformation to reach a level where they can somehow manage to remain in business. For the industry to survive they must manage to provide something that only they and no other industry can provide.

The future of the American newspaper industry is one that is full of uncertainty. Some people in the industry are convinced that newspapers can make a comeback based on their brand names and traditions surrounding them, while others are of the opinion that the newspaper resembles a patient that is terminally ill. It’s hard for old technology to remain viable in an era when new technology replaces it or it has every one of its strengths be replicated by something else. Only time will tell if we are seeing the newspaper continue a march toward obsolescence, or if there is a way to avert this fate.

The New Yorker. [cited May 19,2009] Available at
New Communications Review [cited May 19, 2009] Available at
USA Today [cited May 19,2009] Available at
Rodman, George. Mass Media In A Changing World, 2nd Edition. McGraw Hill, 2008

Media Use

Written in the spring of '09.

The media has an profound effect on the lives of virtually all Americans. The media casts messages to effect people of all ages from preschoolers to the oldest of Americans. The media can affect our relationships, political views, and the way how we view the entire world. In this paper I will discuss how the media has affected my life from the earliest times I can remember to the present day.

I am currently 24 years old and I have been affected by the mass media for my entire life. During my preschool days my media use was limited only to radio and television and the advertising that takes place on both mediums. I listened to the radio stations that my parents listened to and was thus exposed to the music they listened to which was mostly R&B and adult contemporary music. My parents listened to artists such as Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson and that affected me in the way that I am still a fan of those artists today. I watched television shows such as pro wrestling like a lot of other kids and I remember during preschool days doing wrestling with other kids and my brother imitating what I saw on television. I watched public television programs such as Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and other programs. These programs taught values such as tolerance, getting along with others and teaching kids how to recognize numbers and letters. I also watched a lot of cartoons such as G.I. Joe, Transformers, and DuckTales. This had a major effect on me and my peer group as during those cartoons there were a lot of toy commercials and the toys that were shown in the commercials were the toys that everybody wanted. Cereal commercials for brands such as Rice Crispies made me want to ask my mother to buy me cereals like Rice Crispies and I still eat many of the same cereals now like I did 20 years ago. McDonald’s used to advertise heavily during children’s programs with Ronald McDonald, the Hamburgler and the other McDonald’s characters. I used to think McDonald’s was the greatest place in the world and used to be extremely excited to go to McDonald’s to get a Happy Meal. I also used to watched reruns of old shows such as Happy Days and I learned the jingles to all the different products that were being pitched even if I didn’t use many of them. Looking at it now the media has a profound effect on the minds of young preschoolers. A lot of brand recognition is built during that time and relationships can be built with consumers. I built a relationship with many brands during that time that I still use to this day, and watch some of the same programs. Advertisers can reach the parents of kids by reaching out to kids.

During my elementary school years I started making more choices on my personal media use and using a greater variety of media. At this time period I started to have my first tinges of race consciousness and became attracted in my choices to things that had Black people or things Black people did and the release of the movie Malcolm X had a strong effect on that. I started listening to radio stations and music on my own without the decision of my parents. I started listening to rap music which was a very controversial form of music in that time period of the early 90’s and had a stigma attached to it. My parents were not fans of rap music so I listened to it whenever they were not around. Rap music definitely had an effect on me as I was attracted to the storytelling and anger and hopelessness expressed in the lyrics by artists such as Wu-Tang Clan and the Notorious B.I.G. These artists were young Blacks who were getting money and had the persona of not caring what anybody thought and that definitely attracted me. The rap world also seemed to be centered right on New York and that was a strong lure. My favorite radio station was Hot 97 which seemed to be the only station that cared about the thoughts of young Blacks and the whole station approach from advertising to music to personalities seemed to be catered to us. I also started reading newspapers when I was 6 years old as form of current events homework and eventually I started reading newspapers for fun. My favorite newspaper was the New York Daily News and I liked the general quality of their pictures and the articles were easy to read. I started reading magazines around the same time period. At first I only looked at pictures and then started reading the actual articles. The early magazines I read were Sports Illustrated, the WWF Magazine, and magazines I used to see at doctors offices. I also became a big fan of reading books during my elementary school period. Around the time when I was in 3rd grade I started reading a lot. I read kids books such as The Hardy Boys and The Cat In The Hat. Then when I was in 4th grade I started reading sports history books just so I could find out more information on the past, who did what and how did things come to be the way they were. Then I started to read general history books to find out more about the past. My favorite books though were a series called Choose Your Own Adventure where as reader you made a choice of how the story turned out, and your choices could lead to disaster or success. I started watching movies on television and on a few occasions in movie theaters. I didn’t pay any attention to the violent and scary movies I watched. But, it did leave an effect as for many years I was deathly afraid of ghosts and the supernatural, and I had my first experience with death during this time period. I watched all kinds of movies in this time period from dramas to romance to comedies to fantasy movies. Even as a kid I wasn’t too fond of most children’s movies as I felt they were dumb and even then I could see they had far too many plotholes and inconsistencies. In this time period I started to pay attention to the broadcast news around the time of the 1992 elections. I became an ardent observer of current events and was shaped by the political views of the newsmen that I watched and read. My favorite TV show at the time was The Simpsons and what I enjoyed most about the show was the absurdity that took place in the lives of The Simpson characters. I enjoyed the tales of character redemption that happened in some characters and the strong bonds that tied the characters. The show was also extremely funny and it wasn’t too unrealistic of a show. At the time I paid no attention to the effect the shows on TV were having on me and I used to hear reports of the media’s effects on kids and I disbelieved those reports. The media continued to have an effect on my views as the way how the cool characters dressed and acted in tv shows was the way I wanted to act. I also was a big fan of Power Rangers and all the ancillary products that was anchored to the show from toys to food. Another big part of the media that affected me was videogames. At that time period violent videogames started to get a lot of publicity about corrupting the youth and I played some of the early violent videogames which now seem tame. I spent hours playing games like Mortal Kombat, StreetFighter and others.

It was during my junior high school years when I first heard word of the internet. I already knew how to use a computer and I had my first limited experience with the internet which was much slower and less advanced than the way it is now, so it had as of yet to affect my life. During this time I became much more aware of the media and the way how it influences people. I started to notice on TV shows how they tried to get people to think a certain way such as what was right and what was wrong. I started to read religious literature that said the media was a tool of Satan to undermine faith and so I started paying closer attention to what I was watching. As a result I started watching less television shows and also because I started to find most television shows boring and predictable. I noticed most shows had the same plotlines, the same twists and turns and everything that if you saw once you’d become bored to see it again. My favorite TV show was still the Simpsons because it could still captivate me in the same way it did when I was in elementary school. I became a big fan of movie dramas during this time as I was interested in stories of conflict and how people deal with adversity. I wanted to watch stories of how people can redeem themselves or find themselves victims of their own hubris. I was a big fan of rap music during this time and it continued to have a big impact upon myself and peers. This was the time of the East Coast/West Coast rap war and the realization that the music meant more than just the songs started to spread as rappers lives started to be put in danger. I started actively reading magazines such as Newsweek, Time, other general interest magazines, sports magazines and just about anything that I found interesting. I started to read less fiction books and read almost exclusively non-fiction books with the exception of what is still my favorite book, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. The book had everything from class conflicts to racial conflicts, to moral situations, to the redemption of a racist kid who decides he’ll go to hell even if he’s going to have save his Black escaped slave friend. I became a big fan of the comic book genre during this time after being exposed to comic book characters like Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four through cartoons. My favorite comic books almost immediately became Spider-Man and X-Men books. I was strongly attracted to these characters because they were outcasts and strongly mistrusted by the general populace. Despite this they still tried their best to be heroes even though the characters being easily discouraged. Spider-Man used humor to cope with the danger of what he was doing, and he didn’t want to be a superhero as he was always quitting. Even though he was always quitting there was almost a sense that he loved being a hero too much to stop and he had a responsibility to help others. The X-Men seemed to be based on the civil rights movement as the X-Men’s founder Professor X and their main “villain” Magneto seemed to be based on Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. as Professor X wanted peaceful coexistence and Magneto wanted mutant separation. The X-Men fought to save a world that hated them and there always seemed to be a lingering question, what if Magneto’s right? These comics had a strong impact on me as they helped me to understand diversity and tolerance and other aspects of the human psyche.

During my high school years I became much more cynical on life and the media. The book “Catcher In the Rye” had a strong effect on me as I started to notice how phony many people are. The Bible book of Ecclesiastes also had a profound effect on me as it helped me just how pointless so many of the things people strive in life for actually are. “Of Mice And Men” also had a strong effect as it was just a sad book that showed no matter how hard some people try, they’re just not going to reach their goals and things can end up so badly. I started to read more books about race relations, sociological issues, crime and more in-depth about American and world issues. At this time period I also started to use the internet heavily getting involved with chat rooms and talking to people on the internet. I started finding out info on the internet and became entranced with the internet. I started branching out in my music listening as I was now listening to all kinds of music from R&B to rap to classic rock to all kinds of music dating back to the 1950’s with the exception of jazz, classical, and country. I kept watching all types of movies with the main criteria for me to watch a movie being that the movie had an interesting story. I stopped watching new TV shows almost completely until I discovered the Sopranos in 2001 and it quickly became my favorite TV show. I loved the raw language, the sexual situations and that it seemed to be so completely different from regular broadcast TV fare. Tony Soprano seemed like a real guy with a real family with real problems and it never seemed fake like most broadcast TV shows are. He was like a guy that anybody could know and no punches were pulled. It didn’t really affect my perspective on life as I was already aware that there are some criminals who have families and lives away from their lives of crime.

My current media use is heavily internet based. I now use the internet for banking, social networking, school, discussion forums, researching, maps, and just about anything. If there’s something I need my first thought is to turn to the internet. The internet has almost completely replaced magazines and newspapers for me as get my most of my news online. I don’t buy magazines anymore except for FEDS magazine and magazines I can’t find in a library. My television watching has dwindled to the point where I watch no new television programs that are scripted. The only TV shows I watch are The First 48, Gangland, real crime television shows, the news, sports, and documentaries about history. If it’s not real then I don’t want to watch it. The only sitcom I watch is Cheers and I have rediscovered my love of The Twilight Zone. I also watch movies on TV but rarely go to movie theaters. Most movies out have stories that do not captivate me and I have no interest in paying a lot to see a bad movie. I have become convinced that most television is a waste of time and an unnecessary distraction from real life. The news now I also notice is almost purely entertainment as there is very few reporting on the issues that really matter. The music industry is almost dead to me as I don’t but any new albums and borrow CDs from the library to get songs or just download them. The music that is now out is unimaginative and slickly packaged and the terrestrial radio playlists seem to shrink more and more every year to the point that I no longer listen to the radio unless I am in a car. I listen to satellite radio on the TV sometimes as there is a greater variety in the music and there are no annoying commercials. I no longer read fiction books unless I am doing so for a class as I just prefer to watch the film version if it’s available. My perception of life is now no longer clouded by fiction as I pay almost no attention to fiction. I’m mostly interested in reality and don’t really try new things that are not internet based.

The media has changed a lot since the late 1980’s when I was in preschool and so has my usage of the media. The internet has been the biggest innovation of my lifetime and it has taken over a lot of my mass media usage. Looking back at it my usage of the media has shaped me more than I’ve thought and it probably will continue to shape my life.