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When I was little, our home was filled with issues of Newsweek, Time, and the New York Times – not to mention hundreds and hundreds of books (I’m not exaggerating – my dad is quite the reader!). I was raised to perceive these publications as the Holy Grail of news, a window in to the most important occurrences in the world.
When I grew up and decided to go into journalism as a career, my opinion on a lot of things changed. For one thing, when studying the news with a critical eye, the political biases of almost every publication became painfully obvious, and made it difficult not to question whether the reporting of every issue is skewed to the left or right as a result. I know now that in journalism there truly is no Holy Grail, because everything deserves to be questioned and explored further through multiple sources, because “the truth” is more subjective than you might think; even publications with prestigious names that anyone would recognize are often guilty of slanting the truth with its own political and social agendas.
Furthermore, as evidenced by the recent announcement that Newsweek will be discontinuing its print issue at the end of the year after an 80-year run, journalism itself is changing. The fact that Newsweek is going to an online-only format doesn’t surprise me in the least – it’s the way of the world. Sure, some magazines and newspapers keep their print issues going, but I can tell you with certainty that it’s a struggle. Newsweek has seen a decrease in readership from more than four million a decade ago to around 1.5 million last year, and circulation continues to decline – that’s gotta hurt. Even my father, a man who swore by the feel of a newspaper in his hands every day and the smell of the ink, gets his news on the Internet (he’s still a New York Times fan, but has a subscription to their website now) and his books on an e-reader. It’s not just Newsweek that’s going away in print, but the print industry entirely that’s going extinct.
Newsweek staff insists this transition does not mark the end of their publication, and I believe that – at least for now. Sure, it’s sad that my children won’t be able to flip through the pages of a Newsweek when waiting beside me in line in the grocery store (yes, I was kind of a nerdy kid; the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), but the reality is that it’s been years since I’ve picked up a print copy of anything for my news.
In the public relations agency where I work (because I was so disenchanted with journalism that a shelved that career before it ever really began), anyone can tell you how the delivery of news is changing. We used to have an entire library of hundreds of magazines that we subscribed to every month; now we “go green” by going digital. It’s just easier that way and news is delivered almost instantly online rather than waiting a day, a week, or (gasp) even a month for it to come out in a print version.
The fast turnaround time of online news means that the quality of journalism is changing – which was a major contributing factor toward my disenchantment. Rather than rich, in-depth features that reflect time, investigation and detail, today’s “news” often consists of a re-print of a press release or an almost verbatim pick-up of another outlet’s story. With so much news to fill on the fly, there just isn’t time for the kind of reporting I once respected.
With the move to digital, I suspect we’ll see the quality of Newsweek’s work follow suit with the other 24/7 news outlets that fall victim to shoddy fact checking and lazy reporting as it struggles to stay appealing to readers – not to say it will all be bad, but I think Newsweek has certainly been knocked off the pedestal it was once on, and will have to struggle to redefine itself or get lost amongst the Internet clutter.