Death of Print 活字メディアの死

We have been reminded on more than one occasion that this is not the same world that we grew up in. Concerns about overpopulation, pollution, economic crisis and global warming have altered our way of life by causing us to take stock of what is really important to our survival. We have been advised to change our way of life before our planet suffers further damage and we have no more resources to pass down to future generations. So much attention has been put into preserving our natural and financial resources that cultural resources like print media have been somewhat ignored. Although not wholly neglected, financial aid has not rescued publications from bankruptcy with the same urgency that other large companies and financial intuitions have recently received.

Modern society has always had media to act as a reference for its beliefs, growth, people and success. In its many forms it has existed as an expression of our humanity and it can be argued that it is our most valuable historical legacy. Media in the form of newspapers, magazines and other such cultural journals have long expressed the diverse views and opinions of its people and have been useful in monitoring government actions and social injustices. Surely in a world of diminishing resources, culture should be preserved to act as a reference of global change.

The American print industry has suffered greatly in recent years. Newspapers and magazines have been forced to stop their presses nationwide. And with the recession and Internet encroaching on print media territory, advertising revenues dropped 17.7% in 2008. In Britain, many local newspapers are disappearing, making the nation rely further on the state-funded BBC as one of its last great news sources. Reporters worldwide used to act as sentinels of truth and mediums between the information and the people; but with widespread use and knowledge of the Internet, the growing popularity of blogs, youtube, social networks and other information editing sources, anyone capable of stringing together a sentence can become a cultural gatekeeper.

Journalists are not keeping quiet about the state of media and the importance of its preservation to a modern society. On May 6th Steve Coll, President and CEO of The New America Foundation addressed the United States Congress, asking for intervention on the crisis in print journalism. He talked about how even though government intervention can be seen as “counterintuitive” to a free press, it is necessary for the government to step in and provide print media with the same “at arm’s length aid” that Congress gave television over access to the broadcast spectrum at the turn of the century. American President, Barack Obama, echoed these concerns in his May 9th White House Correspondence Dinner. He closed his speech by talking about the health of the journalism industry being “essential to the success of our democracy” in America. He continued to show his support by saying, “A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the United States of America.”

Vibrancy of media is of course important, but should not be our only concern. Protection of dying mediums like print media should be a priority. Although the technology itself has not changed drastically in recent years, it is our relationship with current technologies that threaten print media. Audiences are processing information faster and faster. And it is the need to process information at quicker rates that makes traditional media like newspapers and magazines seem anachronistic. The “MTV Generation” that was characterized by its short attention spans and need for information in small processable doses can hardly compare to the millions of twitter “followers” that can send 140-character status updates instantly from anywhere in the world. Blogs and personal opinion have replaced facts for some and people entertain the illusion of the power of choice by being able to “digg” what news they think is the most interesting.

Print journalists are aware that the Internet is not going anywhere and that people will continue to find faster more innovative ways to share information with or with out the presence of newspapers and magazines. The question is how threatened should those in the print media industry be in the face of technological advancement? Should they see growing technologies as a way to reach new markets and expand the reach of their message? Or should they consider Internet technologies as unwanted competitors in a shrinking habitat?

With the inevitable progress that we are to see in communication technologies in the future, let’s just hope that our desire to get information will not come at the cost of the ways we mean to receive it. Let us hope that change and innovation will not kill choice and diversity of news sources; and that those who enjoy the feel and smell of freshly printed information will not have to settle for words written by anyone on a blinking screen.

Illustration by Shinohara Akemi







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