From the Daily: If print goes extinct

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published March 25, 2009

Thanks to a failing economy and a slumping market for print journalism, the city of Ann Arbor will soon lose one of its oldest public patrons. The Ann Arbor News, which has served the city as its primary daily newspaper since 1835, plans to shut its doors in July. While the paper will still publish stories online, its print version will only exist on Thursday and Sundays in a format that is still unclear. This comes with serious ramifications for the state of news coverage in Ann Arbor. Print newspapers like The Ann Arbor News serve a vital purpose that can't always be fulfilled on online, and readers both in Ann Arbor and across the country must realize that the decline of print journalism is bad for responsible reporting.

With the growth of the Internet, the number of advertisers still looking to invest in print resources is declining. The Internet is perceived as more convenient to readers with its constant updates and easy access. Due to this trend, The Ann Arbor News, like many other newspapers in the industry, will become publish primarily online. While it’s fortunate that the newspaper isn’t facing complete extinction, it’s likely that much of the staff will be left unemployed and that on the whole, the Ann Arbor community will be less exposed to local news coverage.

When at its best, the Ann Arbor News served a strong public purpose by investigating and reporting on local news that affected its residents. While the quality declined as the newspaper struggled to stay afloat during the past few years, it's reasonable to think that few media organizations will be able to completely fill the News's shoes anytime soon. That's a shame for this city.

This reality is even more disheartening because of the state of newspapers across the country. The shrinking of the number of available newspapers leaves those that do survive with a responsibility to fill the coverage gaps. This forces them to become less specialized and obligates them to report on a greater number of issues, diluting content. This, in combination with decreasing competition in the daily newspaper market, threatens the overall quality and value of the existing papers. Part of the benefit of having many newspapers is that they must compete to offer their readers the most reliable, detailed and vigilant coverage. Diminished competition results in the same thing that happens in other markets— a lower-quality product.

Arguably, those who still care about the city will seek out news from the Internet, and it’s good that newspapers can still survive in this medium. But the self-filtering quality of online news coverage is problematic. When readers search for news in massive databases, it’s likely they will choose to read only the news that already confirms their own beliefs. This results in a populace that is less informed and, ultimately, more bitterly polarized.

As newspapers like The Ann Arbor News rapidly approach their final days, readers must be aware that print journalism serves a necessary purpose in society that can’t always be replaced by simply moving online. Vigilant, objective and responsible coverage necessitates competition among print newspapers. As the saying goes, don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.