Senior Consultant, Conor Keane, talks about the effect that online news outlets have on the future of news and journalism in Ireland.
Accurate, comprehensive information that impacts all aspects of our lives is just hard to come by, and the sources of this information are unfortunately in a state of crisis locally, nationally and internationally, when we need them most. We live in the so-called information age. It should be more accurately described as the age of disinformation, where falsehood and half-truths hold sway with battalions of keyboard warriors fighting on either side of the Fake News Wars.
News media, especially newspapers and magazines, are under pressure. Take the USA, a reliable indicator of various trends heading our way. Between 2004 and 2022, more than 2,000 regional weekly newspapers closed in the US, with city dailies falling from nearly 1,500 to below 1,250. There have been significant job losses in Ireland’s compact media market over the last 15 years, with journalists bearing the brunt, as publishers cut budgets to remain viable. And more job cuts are coming.
We urgently need a Citizens’ Assembly structure to debate the future of news and journalism in Ireland to try and figure out a path to secure national and local independent, well-curated news forums that people can trust and that can attract a broad multi-generational audience. If we don’t, we will lose a crucial societal pillar at a time when these pillars are as endangered as the columns of our newspapers. This is urgent – we need to act fast.
The day of the printed newspaper is ending, but as they morph into online outlets, their advertising lunch is being eaten by the Googles of this world. Unless they or their online successors can make a living in the online world, much will be lost. With the near-inevitable demise of newspapers, we are in danger of losing much of what many have for generations taken for granted, dating back to the emergence of the first Irish newspapers in the late 1600s. What of it, some might say, no one can stand in the way of technological advancement – true enough. We don’t need to keep local newspapers per se, but we badly need the information services they provide, and we must ensure sources of this information survive or emerges, or else we all lose.
Just look at one of the most vulnerable sources of news where seams of pretty sound information have underpinned much of Irish society for years – local newspapers, from whence much of the news in national newspapers first emerges.
What’s so good about local newspapers?
By providing region-specific information, they enable communities to bond and potentially act on what impacts positively or negatively on the places and communities where they live. Good journalists can, with varying degrees of success, hold people and institutions to account, be that local government, local businesses, local health services, local schools and local gardaí, among others. Local newspapers champion their regions, making their case with national government and institutions providing a forum for debate on their editorial and letters pages. Achievements are celebrated in the pages of local newspapers, be they sporting, artistic, academic, cultural, professional or community services. Professional journalists covering Council meetings and the local courts provide an invaluable service. Court coverage enables people to discern dangers in their community; for example, the number of drug-related cases featured in regional newspapers has grown exponentially as the scourge impacts every inch of our island.
Ah, sure social media platforms do much of that, some will argue. They most certainly do not; lies and falsehoods abound. Newspapers generate, curate and present information in a way that informs and entertains, and they can be held to account in the courts under our far too penal defamation laws. Curiously, journalists are great for keeping a beady eye on everyone else’s business, while their own industry is in crisis. Now it’s time to focus on the news generators and where the industry is heading because, like yesterday’s newspaper, it is going straight to the bin without intervention.