Newspapers Need to Adapt, Journalists Need to Prepare

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It’s a scary time to be a young journalist working at a newspaper.

But I have hope. Not for the newspaper industry, but for myself and my fellow journalists.

I don’t know anyone my age (25) or younger who subscribes to a newspaper. In fact, I know very few people in their 20s who read newspapers at all. They get their news online. They may read online newspapers, but many just read big-name papers or blogs. Many don’t bother keeping up with local news.

I work in a newsroom – at my hometown paper – with people I admire and respect. Some of them have worked there for decades.

Every day I’m reminded that newspapers are floundering as advertising revenue plummets and the reader base shrivels. Wage freezes have been implemented. Employees are being asked to take unpaid days off. When one employee leaves for a more secure job, the others have to pick up the slack because newspapers aren’t hiring. Some newspapers are cutting their staff to save money. Others are merging or sharing resources with competitors.

All this isn’t news anymore; it’s the norm for the industry – an industry that needs to revive itself before it’s too late.

The journalists at Food for Thought: A News Café did what most newspapers should have done a long time ago. Doni Greenberg, Kelly Brewer, and the rest of the crew have designed an attractive, user-friendly website with lots of personality. They’ve created an online community where readers can get local news and discuss it in a friendly environment.

A News Café doesn’t have a print edition, and it doesn’t need one. Online news reaches more readers, so it’s more attractive to advertisers. And advertising provides income to keep the website going, as well as helping to increase sales for local businesses. It takes less man-power to run a website than a print newspaper, and it’s more environmentally friendly, too.

The Internet has changed the way we get information, and newspapers are struggling to adapt.

Change is hard, especially when change means layoffs. Becoming an online-only newspaper would probably result in a much-reduced staff, or at least a different staff, and that’s a change that remains a last resort for most newspapers. Unfortunately, it’s going to happen sooner or later. And that’s why journalists and other newspaper employees need to start preparing themselves for the future – a future that is uncertain and frightening, a future that may or may not include printed newspapers.

It is time to consider all options, and maybe create new ones. The most successful people in the world are the ones who create, who make, who invent, who think, who do.

What can we do? For starters, we can stop counting on a regular paycheck, or even a timely income tax return. Each of us needs to be responsible for ourselves. We need to pay off our debts, build up our savings, and create our own jobs. We need to determine what our skills are and how we can use them to our benefit. Can we trade the results of our skills for the results of another’s?

The Internet is a tool that can help us learn new skills that may be more valuable or focused than the ones we already have. With some training and practice, a hobby can become a source of income. Websites such as www.lynda.com offer training videos for Photoshop, Web design, computer programming and more.

If we fail to adapt to a changing workforce, then we’re going to end up in the same boat as the newspaper industry. Each of us must take responsibility for our own lives and make them what we want them to be.

Life is ours.

We should take it.

Journalist Lauren Brooks lives in Chico. She is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s weekly entertainment guide, The Buzz. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at lmbrooks.work@gmail.com.

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lives in Bellevue, Washington. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at lmbrooks.work@gmail.com.
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7 Responses

  1. Randall Smith Randall Smith says:

    Lauren,

    Your call and wisdom across the several decades which separate us prompts this message. Your writing has broad application far beyond careers in journalism. Our great country is at a cross road not unlike the Civil War and the Great Depression. How we adapt and reinvent ourselves will determine what we have to offer our grandchildren. Thank you for the expression of old time principles and hope which have always prevailed in previous times of doubt and difficulty.

    CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS!

    Randy

  2. Avatar JimG says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful, well-written article.

    And Randall's comment on its wider applicability was right on point too.

    I'll add my take on your comments about education via the web. I like to think of myself as a "lifelong learner", taking classes at community colleges long after getting a degree, but in the last few years I haven't taken any college classes. Instead I spend time online learning about topics that interest me, to my depth of interest. When my interest is pretty shallow, wikipedia.org does an amazing job. Google puts me in touch with content of greater depth. Thanks for the recommendation of lynda.com – I think I'll take a look at that too.

  3. Well said, er, typed.

  4. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Newspapers are also reinventing themselves to become cyber like the Searchlight and the Chico Enterprise Record as well as the San Francisco

    Chronicle.

    As a reader of all of these and more on line, I still enjoy having a paper copy

    in hand the first thing in the morning.

    Local news will always be important to me to find out what's going on in my area

    and having a crossword in hand is also a joy.

    And having the paper to use to line the bird cage, to use as packing material or wrap the garbage is something you can't do with your screen.

    Lauren, papers will survive.

  5. Avatar Helen C. says:

    Here's the question: How much revenue are on-line "newspapers" – this one, for instance – bringing in?

    • Avatar JimG says:

      Can't speak for this one, but on a bigger scale I read:

      … the Times’ Web site revenue now exceeds its editorial payroll costs.”

      I’ve long been asked by newspaper people – as a challenge – when the web will cover the costs of the newsroom as it exists. I’ve said it won’t, that the scale of the business is just different.

      But if what Westphal reports is true – and I confirmed via email that I was reading him correctly (and it does make sense since both edit costs and web revenue run at about 10-15% of newspaper budgets) – then it means the Times could support its newsroom as it stands – after cutbacks aplenty – from the web. That’s momentous.

      The full post can be found at: Can the LA Times turn off its presses?

  6. Avatar Denise Brooks says:

    As always, great article, Lauren. But ,of course, I would say that being your Mom and number one fan! I am so glad that you have such a positive outlook on your future even though it may be a bit scary. You are on the cutting edge of change and that is always exciting. I remember way back about 25 years ago when computers started to change my job as a secretary and I thought I would be out of a work, but not so. The changes have brought me greater success and flexiblity. Hold on for the ride. It's going to be a great adventure!