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PART 2: The Fall of the Printed Newspaper and the Rise of Cyberspace

By Satheesan Kumaaran

Cyberspace is eroding [national] borders, at least in terms of jurisdiction. In fact, nation and state are often irrelevant in the formation and conduct of online communities. Intellectual properties flow freely across the Net, knowing no borders. What’s more, all this is happening at a time when intellectual properties represent a greater and greater portion of both human industry and the global economy – Vince Giuliano

Current status of the printed newspapers

How the News Changed

Twenty-first century news readers have other options available. They can turn on their televisions, tune radio stations, and browse Internet websites to watch, hear, and read what is happening around the world.

Offset printing and computerized composition equipment during the 1960s and 1970s replaced the old style newspapers using Linotype machines and hot metal type to set copy, processes that were very labour intensive. However, the new technology reduced costs substantially and enabled newspapers to hire more reporters. Further, the newspapers and other printed materials went online. Initially, the printed companies offered their product at a fee or allowed subscribers to the hard copy online access. However, things changed after the invention of cyberspace.

Computer manufacturing companies and Internet providers have expanded productions and services with lower prices as never before. This allows users to shift using the Internet at cyber cafes, universities, or libraries to the convenience of their home. Almost everyone in the developed countries has access to computers and Internet.

Also, new innovators are born with new ideas. They innovate new forums such as weblogs. All these allow cyberspace users more resources which are rarely seen in the printed materials. As a result, the traditional printed outlets begin offering a minimal fee or no charge in order to attract readerships online. They survive with commercial advertisements so that they need to expand their newspapers to a wider audience in order to attract the commercial advertisements. Also, many newspapers have embraced the new technology and reduced their traditional printed broadsheet papers to tabloid-sized paper, which are printed offset at cheaper price.

Examples of Closed Papers

Some newspapers are already closing down their outlets simply because they cannot compete with cyberspace. One classic example is the “The Seattle Post-Intelligencer”, which has moved entirely to the Internet. The paper is online only with a reduced staff. In the aftermath of the decision by the publisher of The Seattle Post – Intelligencer, The New York Times also made a quick comment that the move will be a challenge for The Seattle Times saying that it will now face a leaner online rival that is no longer burdened with a print edition.

Further, a local Huffington Post also reduced news staff to about 43 people rather than the 165 when it was founded in 2005, and a site with mostly commentary, advice and links to other news sites, along with some original reporting. Also, the commentary in the Seattle Post – Intelligencer claims that many other newspapers have closed and many more are threatened.

Some argue that to some extent the shifting is necessary in order to face the competition created by cyberspace. Many more websites have been created with more new journalists coming online. The shift of print to online entirely proves that many others would also follow suit and one day many other cities in the U.S. may one day no longer have print newspapers. The electronic reading devices continue to improve and will soon easily carry the latest edition of the day’s news in an easy-to-read form.

It is no doubt that the healthier competition will definitely engage more public participation, which is the principle source of democracy. Further, the traditional media should engage the general public and the candidates. This can change how citizens and candidates participate in forum debates by not only allowing face-to-face interviewing but also inviting the general public to pose questions to the candidates allowing for more individual engagement in the democratic process. If the traditional media fails to follow suit, it will fade away because cyberspace will do it.

Many candidates are coming up with Facebook, Twiter, and other forums to interact with the general public. And these are first and foremost examples that cyberspace will have greater potential for a long life.

Press guru Philip Meyer calculates that the first quarter of 2043 will be the moment when newsprint dies in America as the last exhausted reader tosses aside the last crumpled edition. Extrapolating the recent linear decline in everyday readership, his calculations show a zero point in April 2043. But, Meyer argues, “Newspaper publishers are not so relentlessly stubborn that we can expect them to continue churning out papers until there is only one reader left. The industry would lose critical mass and collapse long before then.”

A similar timeline may hold true for all countries with high Internet penetration and declining newspaper sales. The majority will see the end of the era of the print revolution. Therefore, newspaper journalism will have to pave the way for electronic journalism. Within the next thirty-four years, the physical newspaper will fade out of existence, assert the scholars who trace circulation and readership statistics in the United States. It is apparent that the situation around the world follow suit, because the U.S. is the leader in the world in information.

The situation in India and other developing countries are the same as in the U.S. because almost all the printed papers in India have brought their papers online. All the newspapers in India are available in many languages free of charge. People will have to pay for the newspapers at the newsstand and the price of the papers have also declined. The survival of the industry is purely dependent upon the financial support from sympathizers and commercial establishments.

Current status of cyberspace

Effect on Politics

The digital age of the Internet, or cyberspace, has already replaced the age of the printing press. The full effect of the Internet kicked in after 1990. At the time he wrote his book, Meyer said, “I underestimated the velocity of the Internet effect. It is now clear that it is as disruptive to today’s newspapers as Gutenberg’s invention of movable type was to the town criers, the journalists of the 15th century”.

The creation of the cyberspace will have greater impact on politics. Political parties are mobilizing their campaign through the Internet. The 2004 U.S. presidential election was really a great example. John Kerry raised $ 82 million online – about six times the Bush Internet figure. This was an astonishing improvement in the U.S. elections and definitely instrumental for the 2008 elections and thereafter, not only in the U.S., but also around the world.

Internet elections pave a greater role in shaping society so that the voters can take part, offering the opportunity for a larger voter turnout and awareness. Turnout overall advanced by nine percentage points from 2000 to 2004, and the figure of young voters improved similarly. The advent of information technology created mass interactions person-to-person because people are more connected.

A perfect example of the influence of online news media is the emergence of the Huffington Post, an American liberal news website and aggregated weblog founded by Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, launched on May 9, 2005, as a commentary outlet and liberal alternative to conservative news aggregators like the Drudge Report, and has expanded to cover political news, entertainment, media, living, business, and the green movement.

On Feb. 9, 2009, at the first official press conference of the Obama Administration, the President made press history when he took a question from a reporter who writes only for the Huffington Post. This action acknowledged the equivalent legitimacy of a media outlet that didn’t exist four years ago. This was Obama’s way to reach directly to his political base, the younger, leftier, and more politically engaged citizens than the usual consumers of old-school media outlets like the printed paper.

Many are using web tools for constructive roles and some may abuse it, but people have more choices now than ever before. Every candidate or individual can express his or her opinion and that individual expression is the unique feature of democratic value. Further, if one considers how lobbyists and other special interest groups may gain control or influence potential voters by using such popular sites as Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, etc., the Internet can be a dangerous tool. The popularity of such maligned influences could be devastating if voters allow themselves to be swayed by sensationalist information, such as postings on blogs and other online community services, without comprehensive research to justify such claims. And this is already happening online. Bloggers post their opinions, or may even post untruths and sensational claims, in an effort to sway their readers.

Demise of the printed press does not mean a demise of reading. People have access to online material; however, while they have more content, they take less time and prefer shorter, more direct material. Therefore, the reading won’t end, but people will be overwhelmed with more knowledge. Further, the demise of the newspaper and rise of cyberspace will never be the demise of journalism because new journalists are coming out with their own blogs and those who cannot find a job within the printed newspapers nowadays can create their own websites. However, it is questionable whether quality journalism will be maintained.

Cyberspace has paved the way for open forums, which is the fundamental principal of democracy because people can express their views online to reach wider publicity. However, problems will arise when dealing with politics because too many opinions will muddle the mindset of the citizens who have little or no knowledge of politics and are being fed with more details. It will be difficult for the citizens to discern what to absorb and what to ignore. Sometimes, politicians would not able to implement better decision-making in the parliaments, while so many problems on the table with the access to cyberspace.

A well known writer and scholar, Robert McChesney, argues that crucial policy decisions taken over the next decade or so will make an important turn out with the public an integral player in the process. He argues that the general public was very concerned about media policies instigated by the government in the past decade, but that is dramatically changing. It is no doubt that communication is the core to democratic theory and practice and with new technologies becoming society’s central nervous system in ways previously unimaginable.

McChesney makes a point that “no previous communication revolution (has had as much) promise (to let) us radically transcend the structural communication limitations for effective self-government and human happiness (in) human history. But only if organized people take on organized money to make it happen, and their challenge is daunting considering the opposition.”

However, cyberspace will play a leading role in politics and the potential for cyberspace to make a swift change is on the way and it will shape societies around the world in the years or decades to come.

(Note: This is a research paper prepared by Satheesan Kumaaran)
(The author can be reached at e-mail: satheesan_kumaaran@yahoo.com)
-To Be Continued Next Week-

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