In the past 24 hours, there’s been a slew of announcements about newspapers reducing their print editions.
At the University of Oregon, the 92-year-old Daily Emerald announced it would move toward a 24-hour online publication and twice-weekly magazine. Hours later, the New York Times‘ Media Decoder blog broke a story about cuts at the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The storied paper will cut staff and reduce print production to three days a week.
Responses to the Daily Emerald announcement have been largely positive. Response online lines up with the way the journalists themselves framed the story; referring to the change as a “revolution” in college media.
“We know what you’re thinking,” the Emerald’s announcement read. “Another college daily goes down, buckling under the pressure of advancing technology and retreating readership. That’s not our story.”
Instead, changes were made at the Daily Emerald to better serve readers and to move into the digital age. That’s the story they told, and people seemed to accept it.
That’s not how it happened with the Times-Picayune. Those responding on Twitter to changes at the NOLA daily are apt to use words and phrases like “mourning” and “loss” and “damn shame” and “sick to my stomach.”
“Surrendering daily publication is the first step to defeat,” one commenter wrote.
But why is the Daily Emerald an innovator, and the Times-Picayune a victim?
To be sure, journalists at both of these newspapers exist in very different professional realities. Cuts to print at the T-P will also come with cuts to staff and salaries, requiring those who remain to do more with less. Seeing that happen at any newspaper – particularly one that has won multiple Pulitzers and provided groundbreaking citizen journalism in the wake of Hurricane Katrina – is a loss and a shame.
But the Daily Emerald and the Times-Picayune exist in the exact same media reality, if not the same day-to-day. College newspapers and professional newspapers always have. And the model that no longer works for the Emerald isn’t working for the Times-Picayune, either.
As journalists, we have to figure out the future of news. It’s looking more and more like that future involves less print and smaller newsrooms. (It also needs to involve a better understanding of what our audience actually wants.) As that continues, we’re going to see more and more daily newspapers making announcements like these.
Of course we’re going to be sad as those announcements roll in. Many of us are incredibly attached to the details of print — from the experience of reading packaged news to the smell and texture of newsprint. And yes, there are often materially negative changes when professional newspapers cut print.
But we have to see those changes as growing pains in the birth of the new industry, not the death of an old one.
Print is a physical reality that’s fast disappearing. And at the end of the day, if we’re more passionate about print than we are about journalism, we’re doing something wrong.
All of us who are journalists got into it for one reason: to discover the truth and disseminate it to as many people as possible. That can still be done, and it can be done online. Will it be exactly the same? No. Is it a long road toward making online journalism profitable? Of course.
But at the end of the day, you have a choice.
You can be the person who walks hand-in-hand with their kids past an old newspaper distribution box and tells them a sad, sad story about the old days, when journalists discovered and disseminated the truth.
Or you can be someone who’s STILL out there discovering and disseminating truth, without worrying about the medium.
You can be a victim, or you can be an innovator.