Life after the demise of print
Remember newspapers? The ink shapes on the paper daily? It’s still around, not quite dead yet but smelling strange. It’s the smell of tahini and hot condiment that drops onto the newspaper which doubles as a tablecloth underneath our lunch-in-pita bread. Circulation figures tell us printed papers are shrinking in size and disappearing. Yes, it is a species about to become extinct, which comes as no surprise considering the paper, printing and distribution costs it is burdened with. There’s nothing new about these facts. All the newspapers that insist on selling (rather than be handed out for free like “Israel Hayom”) are fighting for their lives.
The first blow on the printed newspaper came sometime in the beginning of the decade from the free content websites, which are being updated by the minute. An even heavier blow came at the end of the first decade of the millennium, with the onset of the social networks and the feeds that became our daily newspapers.
Whereas the news websites still preserved some reminiscent of the newspaper spirit, the social networks subvert underneath the basic and central value of print journalism – the editor: that unknown person, always behind the scenes, who used to pick the topics for us, sift the best and meaningful from a meaningless mass of words and present us with well-organized information, from the headline to the smallest item in the right bottom corner on page 72. It was the editor who decided what is important and interesting. He or she were commissioned with creating our worldview. The social networks are undermining this hierarchy and the editor’s status. Today, each one of us edits the news he/she wants to read, creating a customized worldview.
Thus, our view of the world no longer depends on some editor’s choice; it does not even depend on the journalistic filter of the correspondent who used to hand us reality as he or she chose to interpret it. The politicians too are no longer dependent on journalistic caprices and are posting their thoughts as are, unfiltered and unmediated. This, in turn, leads to erosion of the mythical status of the journalists since the politicians (as well as commercial brands and each one of us) can communicate directly with the audience.
As a result, we are witnessing increased attacks on the press (Netanyahu vs. Yediot, Lapid vs. Haaretz). Who needs a journalist to ask tough questions, remind the readers of past statements and in general, place the conversation in context when you can communicate directly with everyone?
Breaking down in face of difficulties: the newspapers (in particular the printed ones) are finding it hard to draw on their former strength, as if they have come to accept that they are doomed. The same newspapers which analyzed the political mistakes of the prime minister, or the foolish business moves of the main characters covered in the economic sections, sometimes with cruel precision, turn out to be helpless in face of their own crisis.
This is regrettable since the power of the newspapers is exactly where the social networks are weak. The incessant dumping of unfiltered, unedited and short-breath information is the big opportunity of the newspapers. It is here that the importance of the editor is felt ever so keenly – the person who sifts the meaningful from the unimportant, who enriches our worldview with stories from different worlds we would have never heard about without him or her, who provides us with in-depth commentary and a well-rounded profile. A (good) editor knows how to refine our taste and is a vital instrument in the creation of a sharp, clear, critical and complete worldview.
Let us hope that the thinning rows of the editorial boards are not a done deal. It is today, in the age of information flooding, that a newspaper should emerge and employ the best gatekeepers. If the newspaper brands will be wise enough to make good use of the digital platforms (websites, apps and social networks) and provide complementary products, not only will it prove its relevance but also that it is more badly needed than ever before.
So let us urge the newspapers to shake themselves out of their lethargy and save us from the dull manifestos of politicians who take their own photos standing by the couscous pots or travelling to Africa.