WSW: Newspaper Cutbacks Mean Fewer "Watchdogs"

Jan 18, 2016

MLive recently announced job cuts as part of a reorganizations
Credit WMUK

Western Michigan University Journalism Professor Sue Ellen Christian says thanks to cuts at newspapers “There’s never been a better time to be a corrupt local politician.” 

Christian says the watchdog role of journalism has been hindered by the cutbacks in the news industry. She was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers before becoming a professor. WMUK’s Gordon Evans spoke with Christian and Rick Gershon, the co-director of Telecommunications and Information Management in Western’s School of Communication, about the future of the newspaper and media industry.

MLive recently announced the elimination of 29 jobs as part of a reorganization. Cutbacks at newspapers are a trend nationally, and internationally as well, according to Gershon. He says it’s not for lack of readership, but “nothing beats free.” Christian says the other problem newspapers face is demographics. The audience for newspapers is aging and newspapers are struggling to make up revenue that no longer comes in from classified revenue. Christian says that has led to a big decrease in the number of people working in newsrooms nationwide.

Gershon says the transition is toward news as a service, rather than a publication. He says the “digital lifestyle” is here to stay. Christian says mobile is the top method of news delivery. She says the “pay walls” that have been created by news organizations may be the future of the industry. Christian says news organizations like MLive which have recently announced cutbacks, are doing the best with the resources they have left. But she says they are trying to cover the community in a challenging environment

How to pay for good reporting is an ongoing question. Gershon says public radio’s example of asking listeners for money is one model. He says there may be more efforts to find philanthropic support for reporting. Christian says while citizen journalism may uncover some stories. But she says professional journalists play an important role in informing the public.

Asked about the news industry in ten years, Gershon says “high tech, high touch” is the best case scenario. He says readers having the option of good digital content and still being able to read newspaper. Christian says devices will allow lots of people to gather news. But she says professional reporters need to play a role in verifying and “fact checking” what citizens report.