The last several years have witnessed the brutal struggle between print media and social media — broadcasters really — like Facebook, Google, Instagram, and Twitter, in regards to consuming advertising budgets. Facebook now scoops up close to 80 per cent of advertising revenue, thus starving print media of much of its sources of income. Numerous daily and weekly newspapers have closed, and even major newspapers have seen declining circulation and revenue. This seeming death-knell for print media will transform the future of the media environment – for the worse.
What does print media offer that Facebook cannot? First of all, many daily newspapers, and certainly weekly papers, are rooted in the community in which they appear, and offer nuanced local news coverage and insights that Facebook simply cannot replicate.
Secondly, most daily newspapers are carefully and thoughtfully edited by people known (on the masthead), and not anonymous bidders of a corporate algorithm, thus constituting a significant barrier to the dissemination of clearly questionable information.
Thirdly, the print media is quite diffuse, thus contributing to a greater pluralism of views when taken as a whole. There is a greater chance for serious minority, unpopular, or truly challenging views to appear in print media, than on Facebook. Since Facebook is such a giant medium, once one is banned from Facebook, one virtually disappears from the mediascape. Facebook has increasingly exercised its monopoly power to ban unpopular views from its platform. With a diffuse print media, there is a greater chance that diverse and non-mainstream views could appear somewhere in the print media, not to be removed at one fell stroke.
Also, print media creates a solid, paper record which can actually have a greater permanence than purely electronic media, which could be, and has been, subject to alteration and manipulation.
There is also, still, something satisfying in reading a print newspaper or magazine as opposed to reading everything online. It is part of a culture of reading.
The print newspaper or magazine allows for more of the famed in-depth-journalism and opinion writing than seen in most Facebook posts, or certainly tweets, as well as creating a culture and community of serious readers, who identify with a newspaper or magazine.
The print media is a historically authoritative media, an evolved entity carefully shaped by successive editors, opinion-columnists, and feature writers—real people, not corporate revenue monopolization policies and strategies.
The broadcast social media is highly ephemeral, and prone to be dominated by mobs of various extremists. Hijacking is a click away. It is also prone to either blindly allowing egregious offensive or dangerous content, while also freely exercising the arbitrary powers of a censor and private club doorman. The terseness of the messages possible in the average social media “broadcast” (post) tends towards an ever accelerating “dumbing down” of content.
Google was originally conceived as a strictly neutral, technical search-engine that would guide users to the items with the most hits, but in recent years, Google has imposed algorithms that “tweak” the search results to conform to the preferences of Google’s corporate social interests. There is a gatekeeper functionality, heretofore unimaginable, exercised by the monopoly’s rankings. Google searches matter so much that the power to “turn them down” is tantamount to denial of service.
Newspapers and magazines are historically critical to democratic discourse, and the gradual starvation and disappearance of print media will have a deleterious effect on public discourse as a whole, resulting in a diminution of civil society.
Today, the electronic monopolies are stealing content and charging for it. The government has to take from the content thieves (like Facebook), and give back to the content creators. The print media has the infrastructure that creates the content that these re-broadcasters of other people’s journalism and opinion writing profit off of! It is a classic case of robbery, with creativity at the heart, the stolen item.
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and historical researcher.