Journalism Students: We Like Paper! We Love Free.

What astounds me year after year with each new crop of journalism majors is how much they prefer ink on paper to electronic media. What kinds of jobs do they want? Newspaper reporter or magazine writer, many say. And most, all else being equal, say they would choose to read a book over a Kindle and a newspaper over a website. But all else isn’t equal, of course. They like paper, but they love free.

This spring in Journalism 24/7, the course I teach each semester that explores the changing news industry, The New York Times’ long-ballyhooed, carefully considered tiered paywall was a frequent topic of discussion. Overwhelmingly, the students dismissed the move as immaterial. There are a million ways to get around paywalls online, they said, proceeding to enlighten me with the methods they had used themselves.

As a final assignment, I asked the class to consider one of three questions: Two to three years from now, where will we get our news? Where will the money come from to support quality journalism? And how will the job of the journalist evolve?

Their answers showed clearly whether they had grasped the conundrum at the root of their own cognitive dissonance. Stephen Grotticelli, a quietly attentive student with a concise and expressive writing style, said that digital natives

will realize that an “app” should actually be an application, not just [a] bit of nomenclature. They will take full advantage of modern technology to offer rich, compelling multimedia, interactive and social experiences their print rivals will not be able to recreate offline. The content will be advertisement supported or, at most, available for a very modest fee from an app store.

But another student, whose name I won’t mention, argued that newspapers will survive because “people want to have the actual newspaper to keep when there’s a big news event, like Osama bin Laden getting killed.” Others, equally oblivious, said quality journalism will endure because people need to know what’s going on. Thanks, kids. That and $2.25 will get you on the subway.

    • Jessica G.
    • June 9th, 2011

    It’s a nice sentiment…and I’d love to think that newspapers will survive, as well. However, as a former newspaper reporter who crossed over to the dark side of PR, I can tell you that it’s not just newsrooms that are slimming down on actual body count. I’m finding that a lot of institutions, medical centers in particular, are choosing not to spend any more resources on media relations. When staffers leave, the news departments aren’t filling their positions anymore. The general feeling is that it is getting increasingly harder to pitch to the media 1) in this digital age and 2) when newsrooms are so short staffed. Instead, a lot of places are, as part of their media and public relations strategies, having a staff member write stories available for syndication to newspapers that don’t have the staff or time to cover the story themselves, with hopes that it will increase coverage. Reporters are requesting pitches via email and some aren’t even allowing pitches at all, but are getting their story ideas from news distribution services. Everything’s digital. News stories are highlighted on websites for five minutes until they are replaced with the next story. It’s really quite a shame. I am one of those people who likes to save hard copies of newspapers featuring historic events…but even I have noticed recently that my box of keepsafes is yellowing.

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