Newspaper closings a disturbing trend

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Objectivity is always a necessity for journalists, but it’s difficult not to be subjective when it comes to one’s profession. Journalism is an overwhelmingly good intentioned and honest endeavor, no matter what many football coaches or politicians would have people believe. For every conniving business reporter at a daily newspaper in a booming metropolis interested in breaking a big story no matter who gets hurt in the process, there are 10 employees of weekly community newspapers interested only in informing their readers and presenting the town in a positive way.

So, it has been disappointing—not to mention pretty scary—to see several newspapers fold recently. The Ann Arbor News announced yesterday it will close in July, joining The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. Seemingly already on the brink, the economic recession is forcing these newspapers to close up shop. Other mediums, such as radio and TV, have been siphoning newspapers’ advertising dollars for years, Web-based classifieds sites added to the problem, and now even editorial content has found competition in the form of blogs and message boards.

All three papers mentioned above have expressed intentions to move to a Web-based product. While the Web is undoubtedly the future for news organizations, the residents of the cities these three newspapers served will lose a valuable service. The Internet is a more significant part of our society each day, but it’s not all encompassing yet. There is still a generation of people that want their news delivered to their doorsteps instead of to their laptops, and these people are unlikely ever to embrace a Web site.

And expect journalistic integrity to slip as we move to the Web. Internet users want news as fast as possible—that’s why they’re not waiting on the print edition the next morning.

But as journalists rush to publish a story before the blogosphere catches on, mistakes will be made. While a story printed in a newspaper can’t be corrected (the record can be corrected with a correction in the next day’s edition, but the mistake in the story will always be there), a story published on the Web can be changed at will. An attitude of “publish it now and edit it later” will prevail.

While those in the business are concerned with what newspaper closings will mean to people that depended on those newspapers to make informed decisions, those in the business are also understandably concerned about what the closings will mean for those in the business. Fortunately for us here at The Clanton Advertiser, the economic downturn forced more drastic measures by large papers than smaller, community operations.

But the specter of motionless presses and quiet keyboards reminds us of just why we must produce a print product and a Web product that is indispensable to the community we serve.