The term “millenial” notwithstanding (it’s a horrible and outdated term that completely disregards the generation gap between the values of those born closer to Gen X and those born closer to 2000), I paused when this popped up on my Twitter feed this morning. Having worked in print media for the last seven years–first on the business end and now on the editorial side–I’ve written about newspapers and the industry on and off. When I was still on the business end of things, many of my colleagues and contacts at newspapers and other publications faced layoffs and the folding of the business; I, myself, was out of a job by late 2009 and spent a year on unemployment. Newspapers and magazines I’d grown up around suddenly shut down or changed their business models in attempts to survive the so-called “death of print,” which really wasn’t so much of a death as it was just an evolutionary process.
But the discussion was always motivated by salvation.
Last week, after explaining to my father how and why I use Twitter for most of my news coverage, my father cancelled his Denver Post subscription in favor of a weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal and what else? Twitter. Another bittersweet milestone, but it’s not because my father doesn’t like print newspapers or magazines. My father cancelled because the overall quality and timeliness of reporting in Denver’s only daily newspaper has flagged greatly over the last several years. Why subscribe to a publication whose online reporting isn’t even timely? Why subscribe to a print publication whose offerings grow thinner and thinner every week? Even the local news stations are lacking in the timeliness of their reporting.
While I realize that money and advertiser-dependent revenue are the biggest factors behind some of these issues, there’s no excuse for less than stellar reporting and storytelling. There’s no excuse for not hiring a couple of people to mine Twitter for up to date news–particularly abroad and at off-hours. On Monday, an Ethiopian Airlines plane bound for Italy was hijacked and landed in Geneva, Switzerland and where did we first hear about the news? Twitter. The discussion about the initial lack of major media coverage was as much a story as the actual hijacking was…and that story was also taking place on Twitter. Among journalists.
Which brings me to my point…the print industry is not dead and dying–it’s changing–and just because it’s changing and how we access/consume information is changing, doesn’t mean that publications can or should sacrifice quality and timeliness for the sake of cutting costs. No matter what your outlet is, you must have both (quality and timeliness) in order to stay afloat and stay relevant. The discussion about whether “millenials” do or do not connect to newspaper and why, ISN’T relevant. There’s still something about spreading out a newspaper with your morning tea or espresso and pouring over it for an hour or so. If you’re not doing it with a newspaper, you’re probably doing it online or on a mobile device–either using Twitter or visiting actual websites and blogs–or you have the television on (or, in my case, have the broadcast news streaming on your laptop).
Focusing on the wrong part of the discussion is like putting the wrong emphasis on the wrong syllable–it doesn’t work out right. The news industry (and media industry, in general) would be better served if the discussion revolved less around the how/why the next generation may or may not “be cool” with print and more if the discussion revolved around, “How can we better serve the news and information-hungry?”