The Ann Arbor News in Michigan is going the way of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: by July, it will cease to exist in print form. The list of at-risk newspapers is growing at an alarming rate, with more bad news recently coming from the Tucson Citizen, Charlotte Observer, Christian Science Monitor and three Michigan papers. In fact, Paper Cuts, a website tracking newspaper layoffs, reports that 120 newspapers in the U.S. have shut down since January 2008. Worse still, staff that are retained as newspapers are downscaled and digitized are still forced to take a pay cut.
The challenges that newspapers face are very real. The demands of a 24/7 news cycle make accessing the news via the Internet and smart phones an easier, more efficient choice. Advertising, already diminished in the recession, is increasingly shifting to the Web. The success of Monster.com and CraigsList.com has taken away the need to turn to the newspaper for listings for things like jobs and houses. The pull of the Internet may ultimately prove too strong for traditional papers to resist against, but the persistent closures and layoffs in the newspaper industry leave me troubled for a variety of reasons.
This past weekend, I was in Washington D.C. and made a visit to the Newseum. The Newseum is a relatively new museum that is completely dedicated, as you might imagine, to the history of news. While there, one major thing stuck out to me in light of the recent closures of many of our nation’s newspapers: what medium will serve to document the events and happenings that shape our lives? Sure, there’s the Internet. But the headlines change every ten minutes and it’s not like I’d take a screenshot to commemorate an historic moment. I just think of the entire wall at the Newseum dedicated to the front pages of newspapers across the world reporting on the 9/11 tragedy. I think of the expansive room dedicated to newspaper reports chronicling every major event that has happened from the assassination of Lincoln to the Oklahoma City bombing to the election of our nation’s first African American president.
Are we right to let these newspapers fall idly by the wayside? Or should we be trying to save a medium that serves as a blueprint for the history books? Call me old fashioned, but I can’t imagine this historical coverage as anything but a big, bold newspaper headline.