You’re likely reading these lines on your cellphone or laptop computer. If you are, you likely came across this article on Twitter or Facebook or some other social media platform.
In recent years, we’ve witnessed a profound transformation: Our eyes have shifted from reading words on paper to reading them on screens, and from watching TV to staring at our phones. We’ve moved from big screens to small ones.
Nowadays, there’s no need to pick up the morning paper or wait for the evening news to find out what’s going on. That’s for media dinosaurs. And because we’re bombarded with news every time we check our phones, most people don’t reserve time to read the paper or watch a particular newscaster.
Last year, weekday newspaper circulation in the U.S. dropped 8% from 2017, reaching its lowest level since 1940, according to a Pew Research Center study. TV is in trouble too: Viewer ratings for local late-night and evening news broadcasts fell a combined 14%, while those for national-network morning broadcasts dropped 4%. These declines are a disaster for traditional media companies; it seems that their loyal audiences — the ones that stuck with them for decades — are suddenly vanishing.
So where are all those eyes going? They’re going to smartphones and other digital devices.
Almost half (49%) of the investment in advertising in the U.S. last year went to digital platforms. Today, even the most traditional media companies have digital footprints of some kind. Unfortunately, the new income generated by these digital services, according to Pew, hasn’t been able to fill the void left by the income already lost by newspapers and TV news outlets. It certainly hasn’t been enough to pay for the little armies needed to run 24-hour news operations.
This is the dilemma facing the journalism industry: In order to survive, media companies must quickly reinvent themselves as digital-first operations, which also means significantly boosting their social media presences. This is true for news organizations in both the United States and Latin America.
Sadly, most of the income generated by digital operations ends up in the pockets of the giant corporations that increasingly own these news outlets. The journalism industry has yet to find a way to capitalize on the thousands and sometimes millions of views its videos and articles receive. And many people are laid off as a consequence.
The industry is competing tirelessly for the eyes of savvy news consumers. It knows that, despite the endless options available to them, these consumers value serious, hardworking journalists, and that they come to rely on them extensively. I know I do. During hurricane season in Miami, I turn to a couple of local weather forecasters to figure out whether I need to evacuate my home.
The best antidote to fake news is credibility. Sooner or later, people will stop paying attention to journalists who make things up, don’t do their homework, or make mistakes and then do nothing about it.
It’s no overstatement to say that traditional journalism is in crisis. The industry is caught in a major storm. Whether it can find a way out depends on where your eyes lead you.
A final sad note. In the past seven days, three journalists have been murdered in separate incidents across Mexico. That makes 10 journalists killed since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to power last December, according to the human rights organization Artículo 19.
On July 30, the body of Rogelio Barragán — the first of the three journalists to be killed — was found beaten inside the trunk of a car in Morelos state. Barragán was the director of Guerrero al Instante, a digital news portal.
The organization’s Facebook page is currently emblazoned with a black ribbon as a sign of mourning. The news site also posted this statement: “Here at Guerrero al Instante, we demand justice and that this crime be punished … and we renew our commitment to the defense of our freedom of speech and the free exercise of journalism at this hard time for human rights.”
Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Is it so much to ask that no more of our colleagues be killed?