Yet Another Reason Print Journalism Is Dying

Last Wednesday, The New York Times sent me an email demanding that I soon become a “digital subscriber”. The Times wants me to subscribe because the paper will no longer be free; they are insituting a pay-as-you-go service. I’m not surprised by this money-making venture. What is surprising, however, is that it’s not just “the economy” or the upsurge of content online that’s causing the print market to fail – it’s the type of content that just can’t compare to what’s offered online.

Later that day, I glanced at The New York Times cover story on the earthquake in Japan and I realized one less than obvious reason why print markets are not faring as well: the print photography sucks. The main photograph on the front page showed a young, crying girl amidst the post-earthquake rubble.

This photograph, among the others taken by The Times staff, is just sentimental. Sure, it follows in the Walker Evans-esque documentary tradition that’s supposed to make you feel something – whether pity, anger, or sadness – but melodramatic photography just can’t compare with the usability of new media: interactive maps, twitter updates, and real-time feeds. I don’t want to post, share, or discuss something that ends with my emotional reaction to an event. John Kelsey, in his essay “The Year in Television,” similarly described last year’s disaster – The Deepwater Horizon oil spill – these two extremes that exist in journalism between traditional photographic journalism and interactive online content:

Shots of oil-smeared birds could never involve us in catastrophe like this. With the live feed, information had finally found its own, perfect image: an apocalyptic money shot, a megabudget vision of flow as such, just muck on the move, wasting everything. The difference between old-fashioned photographic journalism and the new, interactive features online stems from the fact that much online news content is information – raw material that can be used by almost anyone for him or her to produce their own meanings, reactions, and commentary.

I don’t want to place the blame for the fall of print journalism on photographers. All I’m saying is that those “crying girl” photos aren’t that impressive given the plethora of intimate and interactive sources for dealing with  our now common, sublime disasters.

4 Responses to “Yet Another Reason Print Journalism Is Dying”
  1. but what amazes me about this is that celebrity gossip magazines that talk about nothing but divorce, cheating and having babies like Hello, Heat, and Now fare quite well in this downfall of print.

    • I had no idea that those mags were still doing well. I don’t get it – is it just because the only people who buy them are waiting in a long line at a grocery store, pick one up to read, and then throw it in his or her shopping cart?

  2. Will says:

    I have no idea what about people makes you think the average news consumer prefers dispersed primary sources and complex interwoven narratives to rubble and crying girls.

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