A retired news reporter visiting their former offices after a decade away would hardly recognise them. News offices historically have been a notoriously messy and chaotic work environment. Just think of the classic Hollywood portrayal of a desk (and perhaps its worker) completely hidden from view under stacks upon stacks of paper. The more disastrous the desk, the more serious the journalist, the adage went.
But most news desks now lay under four or five single sheets of paper. They'd be startling in their bareness for anyone who remembers spending much of their working day rifling through yellowed copies of old newspapers for just one quote. "The archive" no longer conjures images of a stuffy back room. Gone too are the 3am drives to the printing press, to finally drop off the master copy of the paper to be scanned, printed and hitting the streets just a few hours later.
As with so many of the debates our society wages with each rise of a new technology, by the time the public is arguing about it, industry has long since resolved the question. "Is print media dead?" we've asked over and over again in the wake of the digital media revolution. Well, the finer points can be left to cultural critics, but there are thousands of out-of-work newspaper journalists who'd probably give you a definitive answer. In economic terms at least, printed media is dead. Newspapers already have one foot in the grave. Magazines, and even books, presently lie in their death-beds.
The Death of Print Media Was Inevitable, But There Might Be an Afterlife
One consequence of the internet becoming the predominant source of information is specialisation. Because the whole world is connected and available to all users, communities online are based on interest, not proximity. Online, we can choose any news outlet we please. This results in an increasingly narrow focus of information catered for more and more niche audiences. For better or for worse, most people simply prefer to receive information already tailored to their specific demographic.
While the costs of producing print material rise with the number of readers, the cost of producing digital media is the same whether five or five thousand people consume it. At some point, the transition from printed to digital communication with consumers is necessary simply to stay competitive. And the digital media coup was obviously due in part to its speed and convenience to consumers. Why wait until tomorrow for today's headlines, when you can read a reporter's Twitter feed coverage almost simultaneously as the event unfolds?
The demise of print media is as simple as the answers to these questions: How many students would rather carry a half kg tablet than five textbooks weighing one and half kg's each? How many times have they wished one of the books in that heavy backpack were an encyclopaedia, so they didn't have to be inside a library in order to research? We could go on, but you all know the arguments for choosing digital media.
But new markets always emerge to fill the vacuum left by collapsed ones. Marketing and Public Relations departments have swelled almost as much as print publication has shrunk. On the other hand, printed words are already a novelty in some industries. Nostalgia has always been something you can capitalise on. Just look at the recent proliferation Super-8 video. There's a reason Instagram gives snapshots a vintage look. So you might want to save your cassette tapes for great-grandchildren- doubtless, they'll be amused.