Here at the paper we had a seminar a week ago, where a seasoned editor and journalism instructor gave us a pretty clear message that print journalism's days are numbered. And while some of the reporters and designers I work with shook their heads and muttered "no ways" I have to admit I agree with him. It's my slack-assed generation's fault, too. I don't even read the paper. I can't remember the last time I read any paper cover to cover that wasn't a free weekly. There are journalists who love the smudgy tactile experience that is print. I'm not one of them.
But what got to me is that the guy's solutions to decreased readership were mostly about writing snappier heds and ledes and placing photographs more appealingly on the page. Style, not substance. This bothered me, but I didn't say anything. My thought is that newspapers are failing because Americans can get their news elsewhere, and it is becoming a world where people can get the news they want to see, in a way they want to see it, from sources they want to trust. This is kind of scary, because I see a future where people will no longer get the information they need, preferring instead to read only the news they want.
This isn't good. For a number of reasons. While people who want to be informed will probably be fine, and will remain more or less in the loop about what they need to know, there are vast numbers of Americans who do not care. They will never be informed unless information is thrust upon them. These people will be lost in a world where news is offered a la carte. In many ways, they already are. Americans love what is bad for them: steak pizza, Coors light, Marlboros and ignorance. It's not just print that they are ignoring. It's everything.
There's no amount of sexing up you can do to a headline that will recapture this audience.