By Chit Estella
August 28, 2006
With the invasion by computers and the Internet of almost every aspect of modern life, a change in the lifestyles and habits of those who use them is bound to happen. Among institutions, the mass media are definitely not an exception. In fact, it has become the conventional wisdom that at least one area of media—the newspapers—has been so affected that, fearful forecasters say, we just might see the demise of print journalism within our lifetime.
Print journalists, of course, will have nothing of that. It has been pointed out that when television became the “new” medium of its time, pundits thought that newspapers would vanish. Nothing of the sort happened. Print journalists continued to do well, thank you, and while they usually received lower pay than their counterparts in television, theirs was still generally referred to as the more intelligent medium.
TV news just couldn’t say enough in a few minutes what newspaper articles could explain and describe. A reader could even do one thing more conveniently that a viewer couldn’t: go back to a paragraph or even the whole story and read it again. As bearers of information, newspapers were unbeatable.
Until the arrival of the Internet. Not only could online stories carry as much information as newspaper reports; they could supply limitless background and related stories by connecting a reader to as many links as his carpal bones could possibly endure.
Faced by such a formidable foe, defenders of the print medium now find themselves falling back on a parting shot: You can’t take it to the toilet with you!
At least, not yet.
And so the romance with the print medium continues. Those who have invested in it their energy, money, and memory are looking for ways to make newspapers more responsive to the growing demands of the disappearing reader.
Sometimes, the efforts are heartbreaking. In Europe, some of the most respectable newspapers have resorted to giving away DVDs and other freebies to entice buyers. The irony is not lost even on that ultimate media capitalist Rupert Murdoch who was said to detest the practice because, as he said, one would never know whether a person is buying the newspaper or the DVD.
Thankfully, such acts of desperation have not yet reached our shores. Instead, some newspaper publishers have resorted to another means of enticement: the free newspaper. This month’s issue of PJR Reports features a story on the free tabloids that have lately become a common sight in commuter train stations in Metro Manila. Driven by advertisements, such publications seek to meet the supposed information needs of the harried reader: news that are quick, thin, and pleasant. The prospects of this emergent form of journalism—if it is to be called as such—are reported to be good, both for itself and its older sister, the broadsheet or “the real paper.”
Vagaries have always characterized journalism. Principles that are considered clear and ironclad sometimes turn out to be subject to many interpretations. For how else can one explain the presence of public relations practitioners in Philippine journalism? The views of such PRs and a couple of publishers are presented in a story on this issue.
So are the thoughts of an investigative journalist who, surprisingly, shuns the tag. In her piece on the back page, Yvonne Chua, a hall of famer in the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism, cites the many ways in which a reporter can bring meaning and usefulness to a story. As it turns out, everyone—given the right skills and the needed support—can be an investigative journalist.
And that should be an endless source of consolation. For whether one writes for radio, television, print or even the Internet, one need remains inescapable—the need for substance.