Print and the age of dinosaurs

An interesting exchange on the Jhistory listserv:

From: Jim Leonhirth

Traffic on Jhistory has been rather light for many months, and I have been curious about that since we seem to be in the midst of something of a defining moment in print journalism history. As one of my professors
once observed, discussing history when you are in the midst of the events is premature, but as I talk in my classes about the development of print journalism standards and practices, I often feel like I am discussing the age of dinosaurs.

While the pending “death of newspapers” has been discussed at least for several decades as each new communication technology emerged, is print journalism now actually in the coffin with “curation,” “aggregation,” “repurposed content,” and “search engine optimization” among the nails holding the lid shut?


From: Jay Rosen

I don’t think it’s that print journalism is in the coffin, Jim. What’s in the coffin is the premise that journalism can be usefully classified and understood by the means of production employed to distribute it, such as…”print.” In fact, the whole idea of “print journalism” and of organizing J-school instruction around platforms was weak to start with, barely a concept at all, sort of the minimal viable ideation. But we couldn’t see it so well at the time because production and distribution of the product were difficult, expensive and decisive in organizing professional work. Now production is far simpler, distribution is a click and what’s decisive in organizing work is the niche you have, not the platform you learned.

However, many of the skills, attitudes and arts that we cluelessly bundled into our concept of “print journalism” are not only still around but thriving: like long form narrative, real reporting, accountability journalism, news you can use, beat reporting and so on. In no possible sense are those things “in the coffin” just because aggregation thrives and SEO is something you need to know about. What’s in the coffin is the container: print journalism. Printing itself remains important, and a revenue generator. But the newspaper company that is still organized around that act of production is the company whose stock you should short.