In 1960, 80 percent of American adults read at least one newspaper. In 2017, that figure had dropped to below 10%. Should we care about this decline of print media?
Many scholars have documented the adverse effects of its decline, most notably Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death who argued, using Marshall McLuhan’s famous aphorism that the ‘medium is the message’, that television media bastardises politics and current events into a “form of entertainment”. Thus, the most favourable political candidate becomes not that person who most saliently makes their points, but rather the one who has the most cultivated and entertaining image. Postman gives the example that it is extremely unlikely that an overweight candidate would ever be elected to any political office, even though a person’s weight has no correlation to their political skill. This is the consequence of an overly visualised world. One main reason for the growing decline in print media is that people are apathetic about news that doesn’t affect them - people want news that can be utilised. Postman actualised this in the “information-action ratio”, portraying how useful news is to us. “In the information world created by telegraphy, this sense of potency was lost… [because] we were sent information which answered no question we had asked, and which, in any case, did not permit the right of reply”.
Given that it was written in 1985, the book could be seen as prophetic of our modern President. Donald Trump is a man who could in no way be considered the most politically talented of the candidates. However, he had cultivated an image over several decades that had left an indelible mark on voters’ minds that he was a superhuman businessman who could take on the endemic corruption and rampant corporatism within US Government.
As well as from television, people are increasingly getting their news information from social media, with disastrous consequences. Whilst newspapers offer a degree of fact checking and veracity due to government oversight, it is a free-for-all on social media. If we focus on Twitter, there were more than 6.6 million tweets that included fake news or conspiracies in the month leading up to the US election. This is demonstrated by the fact that the most shared piece of news in the US election was the purported endorsement of Trump by Pope Francis. This is obviously false, and yet had received 960,000 Facebook engagements by November 8. Overall, an eye watering 126 million Americans saw fake news through the medium of Facebook.
Print media is therefore looking to alternatives to survive against these new aspects of media. Some have tabled options that can be taken to encourage young people in particular into reading more print media. Students rarely read newspapers in the modern day, meaning this could be a market worth attempting to tap into. It could also be a good tactic for print media to completely migrate over to the internet to save costs and reach more of an audience, as The Independent have done. Improving the price of newspapers is one final option to encourage further engagement, one that your own InQuire paper has embraced from its very inception.