From a Journalism Major's Perspective: Why I'm Okay With the Newspaper Industry Dying

Sophomore year of high school I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. for the first time. I was immediately moved by the walls lined with magazines and newspapers dated back as far as print media has been alive. The entire trip was inspiring but there was one single quote, by Philip Graham, engraved into the wall that solidified my desire to become a journalist and has stuck with me ever since; “Journalism is the first rough draft of history.”

When I tell people that I’m a journalism major it’s rarely met with a confident response from the individual. Sometimes I’ll get a pity “oh that’s great!” But I know what they’re thinking; why would you want to major in a career that’s part of a dying industry?

But here’s the thing: the newspaper industry is dying, not journalism in its entirety.  

In 2009, Clay Shirky posted an article on his website differentiating the demise of the newspaper industry and the demise of journalism itself. He explains how online journalism is ultimately responsible for the downfall of newspapers but looks at it is inevitable and compares it to the invention of the printing press. The transition from almost no news to readily available news with the printing press was not easy. Our history classes teach us about what happened after the printing press was invented but we never get the details about what happened during the process. People that have studied that time period describe it as chaotic and difficult and it’s essentially what the journalism industry is going through right now.

Shirky argues that the most beneficial thing for us to do for our society is to shift our attention from “save newspapers” to “save society.” This way we’re focused on what works for society and in our modern age, that’s not necessarily newspapers anymore. It’s not easy to say goodbye to tradition but as long as the fundamental values of journalism remain intact, we can continue to progress without the presence of the newspaper.

I feel for people within the newspaper industry and I understand the devastating effects that its destruction will have on those individuals but it’s been a long time coming. My hope is that we can integrate old and new media, like we have in some situations, in a way that will cause the least amount of damage.

Majoring in journalism is not me “digging my own grave” by majoring in a seemingly dying industry. In fact, I’m majoring in an industry that’s going through a pivotal change that I feel lucky to be a part of.

I grew up waking up on Sunday mornings to both of my parents on the couch with newspapers in their hands and coffee by their sides. Does it make me sad that if I someday have children, they won’t see this same picture? Yes, of course it does but there are more important things to be worried about regarding the industry.

Although I always envisioned my name in the byline of a newspaper or a popular magazine, as long as my name is attached to work that I’m proud of and work that means something, I’m satisfied. That’s something we as aspiring journalists must keep in my mind as we write the first rough draft of history.