Since the start of the information age, print media has been largely on the decline. More and more people are turning to the internet rather than tangible newspapers. This change doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing as it makes daily news accessible to more people, but the trend towards digital publication has resulted in a general deterioration in the quality of journalism.
All over the country, newspapers have been closing. Daily circulation of newspapers has gone down by 18.9 million in the period between 1990 and 2010 according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Our own daily newspaper, The San Diego Union Tribune. hasn’t been spared either. In 2015, The Union Tribune was bought out by Tribune Publishing Company (now Tronc Inc.), ending 146 years of private ownership. The Union Tribune was valued at about 1 billion in 2004, but it was bought by Tribune Publishing company for only 85 million dollars.
The decline of the traditional newspaper does not necessarily mean the decline of good journalism, but today’s online environment provides little incentive for digital publications to engage in quality journalism.
When revenue is based on number of clicks, there is motivation to play to the least common denominator. Inevitably, this means websites are reluctant to report on important stories through costly methods like investigative reporting because they require a large amount of time and resources, diverting energy from the click-bait articles that comprise most of their revenue. Sites like Buzzfeed or Upworthy have their place as entertainment, but the fact that they are a main source of news for an inordinate amount of people is dangerous because they focus on whatever will drive traffic to their webpage rather than what needs to be covered.
Journalism is an essential cornerstone of any democracy, and if it continues to fade away, as it has for the past years, then a working democracy is nearly impossible.