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Columbia Missourian

With printed news in trouble, what does the future hold for journalism?

By Sara Shahriari
June 20, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT
Sara Shahriari

Dear Reader,

It’s an uncomfortable time to be in journalism school. My classmates and I came to earn degrees at the Missouri School of Journalism for many reasons, but I believe we all share some ideas. We believe in information, we believe in honesty and we believe that the press is a cornerstone in a healthy society.

To attend

“Watching the Watchdog” events are Sponsored by the Columbia Human Rights Commission Study Circle program, the Columbia Missourian and the Reynolds Journalism Institute. The Study Circles will be held June 25, July 14 and Aug. 6 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Columbia Public Library. Childcare and transportation are available. Call 573-874-7487 for more information.

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Yet as we study and write and work toward our degrees, it’s clear that the world of “printed news” is in turmoil. I use the term “printed news” to cover newspapers and their online offerings, blogs with original reporting and magazines. This print landscape has changed so much in the past 20 years that what allowed the print community to survive and flourish before no longer suffices.

Newspapers are laying off huge numbers of employees as fewer people buy them; magazines are selling fewer subscripions and printing shorter articles for a new generation with a shorter attention span; blogs of all stripes are popping up left and right. It seems that only the tabloids, the television and a few blogs can interest large numbers of people in any kind of reporting. We in the print news community are now scrambling for the tools and skills that will let us survive in this new world.

All of which makes me wonder why I didn’t listen to my parents and go to law school. Just kidding, sort of.

I believe that the press is important, and I know that I love the news more than I can ever love a legal brief. But for written news to evolve and survive, the people who make it must understand what motivates readers to choose a story or publication, how reading news online is forever altering the media landscape, and ultimately, what readers find important. Right now, journalists don’t understand that.

The Missourian’s Advanced Reporting class, which I am part of, is working on a project over the summer that brings people together to talk about the media. Do you trust your local newspapers? Do television networks have hidden agendas? Will the newspaper die as online news flourishes? These are all issues that may be raised.

My classmates and I will be present at these “Watching the Watchdog” events as reporters, but our role is to listen and learn from the community, not to participate in the discussions. When stories come out of the ideas generated at the events, reporters will only quote a participant or use a name with that person’s specific permission. We don’t want anyone to feel limited or to hold back because of our presence.

Maybe I’m still just an idealist, but I think that the reading public getting together to talk about the media can guide our reporting at the Missourian, and maybe even help reporters and readers begin to chart this new media landscape.