Golden Age or past its prime?

We should have seen it coming. At the very least, we should have been prepared when the bottom fell out of the journalism industry.

To Clay Shirky, the fall of newspapers has been both unsurprising and expected. In “Last: Call: The End of the Printed Newspaper,” Shirky cites his hometown Roanoke Times as the perfect example: a paper that hit the wall after a precipitous decline in print advertising revenue coupled with an inability to close the financial chasm with digital advertising income. Even the newspaper’s sale to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Media Group couldn’t right the ship – 31 employees, just over 10 percent of the workforce, were let go soon thereafter in an effort to cut expenses.

 “What happened in Roanoke — gradual financial decay punctuated by bouts of firing — is the normal case at papers all over the country, and more is coming. … If you are a journalist at a print publication, your job is in danger. Period. Time to do something about it.”

Frank Rose embraces a far more optimistic viewpoint in “How the Smartphone Ushered in a Golden Age of Journalism.” Mobile devices may have forced news organizations to reassess their methods of distribution, but the “golden age” presents a wealth of opportunities for those who embrace the future and adjust accordingly.

“Journalism … is holding its own,” Rose writes, citing statistics from the New York Times that indicate roughly half of its readers are accessing Times content through mobile devices, essential mirroring the industry standard. Eloquent writing can still be packaged with breathtaking photography and informative graphics, just in a more modern, more easily accessible medium.

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, according to Andrew Leonard.

“I don’t know whether I’m ready to dub the current age a ‘golden’ one, but there do seem to be some hopeful signs,” Leonard writes in “Sorry, everyone: The future of journalism is still up in the air.” He agrees with Rose’s contention that social media plays a significant role in driving traffic toward exceptional writing.

Newspapers may indeed be a dying breed, but journalism, with a hat tip toward modern technology, continues to prosper.


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