"And I believe that good journalism, good television, can make our world a better place." - Christiane Amanpour
One of my favorite ways to wind up the weekend is watching "Last Week Tonight" featuring John Oliver. It's funny, gives a glimpse at the world and, each week, tackles a big subject. Last night's big subject was newspapers, and the fact they're slipping away.
This wasn't news to me. I've been watching it for some time, and I, too, worry about what that means for our future. It's hard to imagine the world without a daily paper, and while we might be a little ways off from that, we're already starting to feel the effects of its decline.
My favorite movie of 2015, by far, was "Spotlight." It's a film that won Best Picture. It tells an important story of how a group of reporters in Boston uncovered the truth about the depth of the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and shinned a light in those dark places many wanted to keep hidden. But it tells another important story.
"Spotlight" is as much about the power of journalism and print media as it is about the narrative it told. And "Spotlight" is hardly the first film or TV show to capture the importance of print journalism. "All The President's Men" was about the reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal. On the small screen, season five of "The Wire" told a story about the importance of journalism in keeping our leaders accountable and it disseminating the truth. That story was born of a personal passion for series creator David Simon, a former report for the Baltimore Sun who's seen first hand how traditional journalism at newspapers is eroding.
Newspapers are a public service, but they're also a business. And business has been bad for a while. Now the newspaper companies aren't blameless in this, but neither are we. Changes in technology and the fickle nature of consumers, who want things immediately and free regardless of accuracy are a big part of the problem. When I write that it sounds like a condemnation of everyone else, but I fall into that trap, too.
But I have a slightly more personal perspective. When I was in middle school, I locked in on what I wanted to be, a journalist. At first I thought I wanted to call games for ESPN, but by the time I was in college, I realized I loved to write. I studied to be a newspaper reporter. I started college in 1999 and graduated in 2003, and by then already we could see big changes were coming.
Upon graduation, I went to work for a small town paper. I started covering sports and transitioned to being the managing editor, frequently covering education. And I saw the effect of budget constraints first hand. When I started, our paper and our sister paper had 10 people combined on the editorial staff and put out three issues a week. By the time I left seven years later, we had 5.5 people combined and put out five issues a week plus three special publications a month. That's right, more than twice the content with half the staff.
And we weren't alone. Papers across the country have downsized, often with the most veteran reporters being let go for budgetary reasons. When I read our local paper now, I can see the changes. It's thinner and more reliant on the Associated Press for content.
Journalism plays an important function in a free society, and newspapers have traditionally been the best place for long-form, deep-dive, hard-hitting investigative journalism. That's what "Spotlight" is all about. And that's what we're losing.
And the impact of that loss will be more than just our children and grandchildren asking what a newspaper is.