Four years ago this month, we published a blog post titled, “Why Newspapers Still Matter.” It outlined our thinking about print journalism providing an “experience” that is somehow richer than what one can find online. How a newspaper provides a unique snapshot of history. How it gets your hands dirty. How it makes critically important information available to everyone, even those without access to the Internet or a smartphone.
Despite the passage of time, the post continues to be one of our most popular pieces. Perhaps that is because, since that day in 2013, the debate over the value of the news media in every form has reached a fever pitch.
Thanks to calls of CNN peddling Fake News and Fox News serving as de-facto State News, the conversation in some political and social circles has escalated from, “Do newspapers still matter?” to “Do the news media still matter?”
Deciding What’s News
While I don’t necessarily agree with all our original arguments, one of the most resonant points that stands the test of time came from Donna Leinwand Leger, now managing editor of USA Today. She said that newspapers are critically important for the public, because every morning, a group of highly intelligent individuals gather in a room and fight. These editors and journalists argue about what should be in the paper and what should be on the front page for readers to see.
Although newspapers do not have exclusive claim to this type of editorial decision-making, the main idea is true today, despite belief by some (32% of Americans polled by Pew) that editors and journalists gather in a room not to determine the most important news of the day, but to fabricate stories, statistics and sources as enemies of the American people.
The Overtrumped Crisis of Trust
Regardless of loud cries to the contrary, and quite possibly to President Trump’s dismay, the crisis of trust in the media may not be as bad as we think. While newspaper circulations, ad revenues, and headcounts, unfortunately, continue to decline, online readership of legacy media is on the rise and confidence in reporting is increasing.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released last month, the percentage of adults who report having a “great deal” or “some” confidence in the press rose to 48 percent in September from 39 percent about the same time a year ago. The poll also showed the percentage of those who said they had “hardly any” confidence in the news media dropped to 45 percent from 51 percent over the same period. Gallup shows a 7 point increase in the number of Americans who say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers (20 percent in 2016 compared to 27 percent in 2017, the highest recorded since 2011).
We are as a society consuming news in every format and trusting what we are reading, seeing, and hearing. And it just so happens that we may be the beneficiaries of some of the greatest reporting of our time.
- New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman, regarded as The Trump Whisperer, has provided extraordinary insight into the current administration. Her sources include the President himself, who speaks with her openly and on the record, and high-level insiders who have shared their private accounts of what occurs behind the scenes in one of the most unconventional West Wings in our nation’s history. In a White House that struggles in the briefing room, Haberman’s reporting provides a reliable view of what is really happening on Pennsylvania Avenue.
- The Washington Post’s dogged investigative reporting of allegations against Senate candidate Roy Moore surfaced accusations that had been widely known in Alabama but not reported publicly for more than 30 years. Beyond giving voice to those who were silent for so long, the reporting also has the potential to shift the balance of power in the Senate.
- Despite intimidation and threats from one of Hollywood’s most powerful executives, Ronan Farrow’s reporting in the New Yorker uncovered another open secret that ultimately led to countless women sharing their own #MeToo stories and potentially making a seismic impact on our society. These brave women, and the determination of journalists like Farrow, have resonated far beyond Hollywood. Men and women on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, and the halls of Congress are now emboldened to share their own experiences.
- CNN’s international correspondent Will Ripley remains one of the few Western journalists to regularly report from Pyongyang, North Korea. His experience and relationships give us an unprecedented look at the very real threat facing our nation from this highly secretive adversary. Without the network’s resources and access, we may never know how our administration’s actions are being interpreted in that part of the Korean peninsula.
These are just from the past few weeks. In 2016, the Chicago Tribune published an important story on an alarming number of pharmacies failing to inform consumers of dangerous drug interactions, Reuters exposed the hidden hazards of lead poisoning across America, and Fusion, one example of “new” media, produced an eye-opening series on the opioid epidemic. McClatchy, whose origins date back to 1857, is experiencing a 20 percent increase in unique visitors to its local news sites, and its local reporting is making a difference in communities across the country.
So, yes, journalism still matters. But does the printed page? Not necessarily.
The platform matters less than the smart and tenacious journalists behind the notepad, iPad, camera, and microphone. A Fusion story on opioids may not get your fingers dirty the way an expose in the Chicago Tribune can, but both forms of reporting succeed in making a powerful impact. We still hold on to the hope, however, that the print version is never lost.
As we said in 2013, keep throwing it on our lawn. We are glad to have it.