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When the Well Runs Dry

Opinion | February 26, 2010

There once was a time when waking up and reading a daily newspaper with a coffee and a balanced breakfast was the norm. Norms are often meant to be broken—but not this one. This species of consistency deserved to live peacefully for many years, yet the friend to that cup of coffee, that ally to the balanced breakfast, and the friendly face to wake up to has a reason to feel paranoid lately. Students now wake up to Perez Hilton as their home page. The aura behind print journalism is fading, decaying, and withering away. The question at hand seems to be whether anyone will appear to water its soil?

Allow me to make a correction: print journalism is not dying—it is suffocating. Suffocation seems to be its fate as the oxygen that pumped through its lungs  is running low. This oxygen is classifieds and advertising dollars. As I was surfing TuftsLife on another groggy and soggy Sunday morning, I came across an announcement for a meeting for TuftsDaily.com, the online counterpart of the Tufts Daily. The initial thought that ran through my head was,  “Why would they have two separate interest meetings for the same paper?”

TuftsDaily.com is large. And that is an incredible understatement. It has grown and adapted so quickly that it could in fact hold its own in comparison to professional paper distribution companies. Across the country, Internet editions of newspapers have grown quite large in comparison to their print counterparts. In many locations, the internet parasites have swelled so large that they are engulfing, if they have not already engulfed, their print brethren.

Papers have become that biblical goat for the media market to pass on its sins and struggles. Paul Farhi at the American Journalism Review refers to print as “Old Media” products; in an article titled, “Build that Pay wall High,” he attributes print’s drop in popularity to “high manufacturing and distribution costs, deteriorating readership, and an advertising base that has been ravaged by technology and recession.”

Advertisers have a good reason to jump ship. Their flight is rooted in consumer culture. Media consumption has become dominated by our Id. Consumers revert to an early Freudian stage in which immediate needs outweigh and replace all other thoughts. Media is now a compulsion rather than a commodity. We do not savor our media. Instead, we leap from one  item to another,  casting the previous items aside as excrement.

What about college newspapers?  TuftsDaily.com is growing quickly, supported by a tech-savvy campus. So now let’s go back to the notion of advertising and classifieds. With a healthy and flourishing Internet component, advertising and classifieds are more prevalent and accessible on the Internet than on paper.

Even in December 2008, some notable daily college newspapers, feeling the pressure of the ever-so mentioned economic crisis, cut their days of production. Erica Walters of the Student Press Law Center, in an article titled “Money Woes Hit Campus,” wrote, “The Daily Orange, an independent newspaper at Syracuse University in Syracuse, NY, announced it would cut publication days from five days to four, just as the Daily Californian, another independent newspaper at the University of California at Berkeley, announced it would drop its Wednesday publication.” This was December 2008, and the situation has gotten even worse since then.

Bryan Murley of PBS provides another obituary for print journalism: “Ohio State University cut summer publications this year as well, and the Daily at the University of Minnesota is the latest to cut a publication day. Now, the Daily Texan is looking at possibly selling its presses, and other papers are talking about pay cuts, hiring freezes, and other belt-tightening measures.” Murley is watching this trend from the high ground, as pbs.com is flourishing with advertisements and new media.

Pick up the next newspaper that you come across, and give it a good read. Go beyond the news section and witty columns, and look long and hard for its advertisements. What you will find is a shriveled classifieds section and advertisements placed by the newspaper itself, but you will also notice a growing lack of advertisements by businesses and restaurants.

Advertisements are the lifeblood of newspapers, so what will happen when the pool runs dry? Internet media has provided a small oasis, but do not count out print just yet. The Tufts Daily is still a very well-respected and stable paper. Yet, one must consider the omens and signs. The swine that is the Internet is edging eerily close. It may not be certain that college papers will suffer the same fate as their professional counterparts, but one cannot help but notice the clouds.