It would be far too dramatic to extrapolate from the disastrous week that journalism itself is dying. The New York Times is healthy. Thanks to good management and demographically vigorous readerships, the Boston Globe and Minneapolis Star Tribune carry on. Cable, network and local TV news still toss off profits. But no matter how many heroic
nonprofit newsrooms like the
Baltimore Banner and
Daily Memphian take root, no matter how many Substack-like newsletters blossom or creators emerge to drop their videos on YouTube, you can’t deny the journalism business’ decline.
The cause of the business’ decline is simple. As
tech analyst Benedict Evans succinctly put it in a post this week, “There’s very little you can say about the finances of the newspaper industry that you couldn’t have said 15 or 20 years ago. The old model went away: you had an oligopoly over both advertisers & readers, and real-estate agents and car dealers paid for your social purpose. Now they don’t need you.” Targeted advertising on the web has diminished the old advertisers’ complaint that
50 percent of their ad budgets are wasted and they just didn’t know which half. Now they do, and they avoid newspapers and magazines. Unless a publisher creates something so essential that readers are willing to pay for it — like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal or POLITICO, which gets more than half of its revenue from paid subscribers — the sledding will be more than rough. It will be ruinous.
As journalism falls into eclipse but does not completely vanish, newsrooms will continue to contract. This is terrible for the workers who will be discarded. But worse still, it sends a market signal to aspiring journalists that they should avoid the profession because there are no vacancies to fill.
With fewer entry-level jobs and fewer outlets for freelancers, the pipeline of talent that has long watered larger publications with experienced journalists might dry up. Where will aspiring nonfiction book authors learn their trade? The
alternative weeklies realm, from which I hail and which trampolined many young journalists into larger, more prestigious news organizations, are a much diminished force. Once healthy papers folded in places like New York, San Francisco, Boston and Minneapolis; suspended printing in cities like Washington; went biweekly, as in Chicago and Seattle; or otherwise trimmed their page counts down from the early 21st century boom