After the chaotic whirlwind of a year that was 2016, with news headlines ranging from things such as the New York Times’ “After Water Fiasco, Trust of Officials Is in Short Supply in Flint” to U.S. Magazine’s “Taylor Swift and Kanye West’s ‘Famous’ Phone Call,” many citizens have been left to wonder what the state of journalism is going forward. Recent months have seen a decline in investigative journalism, an increase in the prevalence of fake news, and a noticeable shift away from print and TV news to social media and other online sources as the primary means of news consumption, especially in millennials (Pew Research Center).
According to a survey of Leigh High School seniors, 35.2 percent of students use social media as their main source of news, and 24.1 percent use other online sources as their primary method of receiving news. News sources across the country have suffered an immense decline in readership of the print newspaper.
“The U.S. newspaper industry nationwide [has] lost 80 percent of [its] revenue in the past 17 years because so much of the advertising has moved away, moved online, [or] moved other places. The Mercury News is not as big as it used to be—no paper is,” said Neil Chase, Bay Area News Group Executive Editor.
Although fake news has infiltrated much of mainstream media, causing the percent of Americans who trust the mass media “a great deal” or a “fair amount” to decline from 55 percent in 1999 to 32 percent in 2016 (Gallup), local media has prevailed as many people’s main news source—for both local coverage and national news stories.
“There’s a lot of people who still rely on their local newspaper—the Mercury News or any local newspaper—to be a main source of national news for them… People still want the local newspaper to reflect the national news and international news in a way that they feel is appropriate to them… If I were to take all the national news out of the paper and say ‘Oh, you can get that online. I’m going to just give you local news,’ a lot of folks would feel like something was wrong, like we’re not doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Chase.
Even if people do trust the news they are exposed to on a daily basis, most only do so because they practice selective exposure and selective perception—they only read, watch, or listen to news from sources that align with their opinions, thus perceiving the news in a specific, potentially closed-minded manner. In fact, only 33.4 percent of the surveyed Leigh seniors reported that they read or watch news from a variety of perspectives.
“The news sources [I follow] generally align with my political opinions,” said Madeline Erba, sophomore.
Especially in the context of the most recent election cycle, fake news stories—usually generated by people who get paid to create “clickbait” stories or unintentionally made viral by an average citizen’s incorrect assumption about something—have become more common than ever before.
“This increase in fake news is appalling due to how much of the population believes false news and can’t even determine when a source is reliable or not. The amount of false news and media continues on a rise due to its appeal to the majority which takes away from hard-hitting journalism,” said Katrien Weemaes, senior.
Despite the rapidly changing landscape of the news-reporting world, Chase, former editor at the New York Times and professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, chooses to look optimistically at the future of journalism.
“The need for journalism, the need for reporting—the people are starved for information; they’re consuming more information than ever, just from more sources. So, I’m not worried about journalism going away…You have to think about it like a business and run it like a business, and that means realizing that we’re going to be printing fewer sheets of paper, but we’re not going to be doing less journalism if we do this right,” said Chase.
So, is journalism in crisis? Maybe. But if people keep supporting newspapers that provide accurate, objective news and stay aware of the events that affect their lives and the lives of others, then journalism will be just fine.