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.