Cry the beloved newspaper


A journalist writes “Is Journalism Doomed?” at

I think not, but the services which journalists provide are now delivered in a more efficient and effective way due to technology, as has happened in many other occupations and industries. Is the output as good? Opinions will differ. I read this article on an excellent website which focuses on Canadian news, and is an example of the changes underway.

Communications in general, and in particular broadcasting (radio and television), book and magazine publishing, the music and film industries, schools and universities, are all examples of where content and carriage has had to adapt to technological change.

Journalists see themselves as suppliers of content, some high quality and some less so. There is still plenty, perhaps more, high quality content out there, but it is not in the usual places. A combination of websites and search engines will probably find too much information on a given topic, especially if it is controversial. This means that the journalistic function is performed by many more people than in the past, and the reader has to work harder to find it. But technology provides a helping hand.

For example, the Encyclopedia Britannica has an online presence and contains half a million articles. Wikipedia contains five million articles, with 800 new ones appearing each day (according to its website); these articles receive a quality rating and can be revised. While neither provides daily news, they are used by journalists and others for research purposes.

Many journalists, affected by the changes, will find and are finding new ways to distribute their material, and newcomers can enter the profession creating more competition. I would argue that the current environment provides readers and viewers with the opportunity for better quality content, but they have to work to find it. Receiving a hard copy now turns out to be the lazy way to obtain news compared with an online search.  Interestingly, there are still publications which employ first class journalists, like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.  They produce hard copies as well as having an online presence.

If old-time journalists despair of their profession, look at what happened to farm workers. In 1900, almost 40% of the labour force in North America was employed in agriculture. By 2000, it was less than 2%. Output mushroomed, and with it labour productivity. Some jobs were lost but others created, for example manufacturing tractors and other farm machinery, maintaining the equipment, and undertaking activities like research, transportation and storage. Overall there was a loss of jobs in agriculture but an increase in production, and an increase of jobs elsewhere.

Anytime technology changes existing occupations will be affected, and those who suffer will argue that the future will be worse for consumers, as well as for those previously employed. The latter is seldom the case, although the adjustments that workers and businesses have to make will take longer for some than for others. When electronic typesetting replaced hot metal type, the workers were taught how to tap keys instead of using metal plates.


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