By STEFANIE GARDEN
Ten years ago the world waited anxiously for some major event to mark the incoming new millennium. Planes were supposedly going to fall out of the sky, the bank system was going to crash and personal computers were expected to eat us in our sleep. While the Y2K technology doomsday scenario never panned out, it did, for the first time, introduce us laypeople to the importance of information technology and the growing hi-tech industry. This has definitely been the decade of tech, and the impact has been staggering.
For media outlets, especially newspapers, the decade of tech has been a complex one full of innovation on the one hand, adaptation on the other and a lot of transformation in between. Over the decade, analysts have contemplated the impending death of "old" media and explosion of "new" media, providing a grim outlook for those of us who just love the way the black ink of a fresh paper lightly stains your fingers.
The introduction of products like Amazon's Kindle, an electronic reader, has begun to revolutionize the book trade. Apple's iTunes podcast application makes listening to live talk radio full of pesky advertisements a hassle in the same way Tivo and DVR have made live TV and its inevitable ads a nuisance.
Search in Google for "the decade in media" and you'll find some very distressing - along with several hopeful - articles. You'll also find Newspaperdeathwatch.com - yes, the content is as depressing as the name. NDW, whose catch line is "chronicling the decline of newspapers and the rebirth of journalism," features an "RIP" column listing US metropolitan daily papers that have closed since the site's launch in 2007, among them Arizona's Tucson Citizen and Colorado's Rocky Mountain News. Considering that the closures of these two papers left the entire states of Arizona and Colorado each with only a single major daily paper - this turn of events should not be taken lightly.
THE JERUSALEM Post was among the first newspapers to appreciate the potential of the Internet to reach out to readerships that simply couldn't get its print editions in timely fashion, however, and our editor-in-chief David Horovitz says the Post "has been liberated by the Internet."
"We were a fairly small English-language paper in Hebrew-speaking Israel, and then the Internet suddenly made our content available to millions," he says.
Indeed, the Post's unique position as the only original English-language paper in Israel gives it an edge internationally, and only the Internet could provide the scale of exposure the Post enjoys overseas. Over the decade, however, the issue for newspapers has become less about exposure and more about the ability to demonstrate the value of the product.
Even the biggest names in news have been struggling to reinvent themselves to appeal to the more hi-tech savvy generation of clients. The New York Times, for example, tried to split its editorial newsroom in two - one for print and another for Internet content. When that proved unsuccessful, it was forced to revert back to one overarching editorial newsroom.
Several years ago The Wall Street Journal overhauled its layout, shrinking the paper's size and its content space in favor of increasing advertisement units, including - for the first time in the paper's history - ad space on the front page.
News is a business like any other. Television news, radio news, Internet and print news all rely on advertising and circulation to keep them going. In witnessing the decline of the news industry, we've unfortunately had to bear the decline of news content as well. Gone are the days when Ted Koppel interviewed world leaders; they've been replaced with mind-numbing sit-downs with the latest "celebutant" facing a DUI conviction. Many news outlets lack serious reporters, and instead are riddled with pundits and commentators with no journalistic background armed with little more than their opinions and good looks.
Ratings are key, and when the ratings suffer, content suffers. Over the last decade, numerous news organizations have begun shutting down their foreign bureaus, favoring instead to rely increasingly on wire news and partnerships with other news organizations. This condensing of news sources is a serious blow to audiences' ability to get credible, independent information.
Horovitz believes that for Israel, specifically, this represents an interesting dilemma: "Israel depends on being viewed fairly. Over-coverage has skewed and unfairly represented our reality, but the more competent, fair-minded, credible journalists you have reporting here, or from any area, the better people will understand the situation. Fewer good journalists can only be a bad thing."
As news media continue to search for a successful model to pull out of their decline, the fear is that journalistic integrity might suffer along with them. The rise of citizen journalism and use-generated content allows for a much freer flow of information; however it also diminishes the potential for reliable, credible news content. For news organizations like the Post, our content is our biggest asset and our readers must understand that there's no such thing as a free lunch.
In the tug-of-war between readership and exposure, news outlets may have inadvertently diminished their own value by virtually giving away their product. Horovitz believes that newspapers must figure out a way to make the Internet work financially in their favor, while newspaper readers must be prepared to pay for their services or lose their content all together.
"The real question," he says, "is where the two sides will meet, and what each side will have to do to make that meeting viable."
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