Journalism in the Bermuda Triangle

Η κατάρρευση του αμερικανικού Τύπου. Τα αίτια και τα σενάρια για το μέλλον. Από το Tagesspiegel...


Two years ago David Carr, a prominent media journalist for the New York Times, speculated about how future historians might evaluate today's world. Carr’s hunch? "There is a chance that historians will examine this period in American history and wonder if journalism left the field." Michael Hirchorn recently responded to Carr in the Atlantic Monthly, stating that even an iconic newspaper like the Times might wind up broke in the next year.

Indeed, if there's an American industry in worse shape than the banking industry, it's the daily papers. Not long ago, casinos were the one and only business in which more money could be made. Since then, however, not only is the newspaper industry's existence in America endangered, but respectable journalism also teeters to disappear in a Bermuda Triangle. The metaphor works nicely as newspapers, as well as their editorial departments, are under pressure from three different angles.
First, readers drift to the Internet in droves. This is no surprise, as Internet news arrives rapidly and free of charge. Granted, for many years publishing houses knew such changes in reading habits would arise. Information was made available online at no charge, as publishers fostered the hope that advertising income would move to the Internet along with readers. If the public would read news online rather than rustle papers at the breakfast table, publishers could simply eliminate their greatest block of costs: paper, print and distribution.


Secondly, advertising managers of miscalculated two crucial areas. In "the good old days," most papers had regional or local oligopolies or monopolies - a dominating market position. Therefore they benefit from strong advertising rates and dream returns for decades. On the Internet, however, competition prevails. The competitor, who seeks the same advertiser, is only a mouse click away. Therefore the advertising revenue margins that once generously financed the editorial departments have shrunk. Gone are the days when not only publishers but also editors and reporters were able to live in the lap of luxury.
Conditions are close to paradise for advertisers for another reason: Today, they can reach target groups with little wasted coverage. A far cry from the concerns of Henry Ford, who worried that half of his advertising budget was thrown out the window though he didn't know which half. Today, Google and other search engines pocket the majority of the advertising income that newspaper publishing houses had hoped to get.


In the discussion of the future of newspapers, little attention is given to the third corner of the Bermuda triangle, the impact of Public Relations – although it shouldn't be dismissed. In past years, hardly any other industry was growing as much as the PR industry. An armada of over 243,000 PR people face approximately 100,000 journalists today. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 18 percent increase in PR professionals in the next 10 years, while the editorial departments will probably continue to shrink at cyberspeed.
Years ago, Berlin-based communication researcher Barbara Baerns observed a trend that is now gaining speed. Gateways in newsrooms for PR work are opening up wider and wider, and more and more frequently, editorial departments convert press releases into "journalism." This can be done with a single mouse click and no prior fact-checking. As a result, intelligent readers begin to doubt the reliability of their media and don't wish to pay for it. Those in charge of businesses, in politics, administration, and non-profit organizations may also question whether to spend as much money on expensive advertising when many messages can be spread cheaper and more credibly by PR getting access to editorial sections. In this manner, they also withdraw resources from editorial departments. Without resources, research suffers and journalism deteriorates into screening, arranging and sorting information.