30: The death of print

Offline publications suffer as consumers turn to digital news

It’s a Sunday morning and the paperboy tosses the weekly newspaper on each driveway as he bikes down the suburban streets of Lafayette. Simultaneously, screens within each home illuminate as notifications ping from media sources across the globe. 

Renowned print publications now take a backseat to more entertaining, quick, and, sometimes, deceptive news as Generation Z relies more heavily on social media platforms for information. More and more users on apps like TikTok and Instagram claim to be reliable sources for news.

“I get my news mostly through social media: Instagram, Youtube, podcasts, all online,” Acalanes sophomore Ella Thomason said.

   A lack of reliance on print news goes far beyond just high school students. The print industry’s suffering has been prevalent for years. According to “Newspapers Fact Sheet” by the Pew Research Center, in 2011 Sunday papers circulation was 48.5 million as opposed to in 2020, when circulation had dropped to 25.8 million.

   Digital news consumes the teenagers of today for a multitude of reasons. Instead of reading a paper, people use social media platforms to spread awareness about topical issues. Teenagers today wonder why they would bother picking up a magazine when accessing news is as simple as a swipe or search. 

“My family doesn’t get newspapers anymore and looking at the news on television is a pain, so social media is easier to access and it’s more catered to teens so it’s easier to understand topics I care about,” Thomason said.

While teens may depend on online sources for their information, some adults still choose to consume their news the traditional way.

“I subscribe to four newspapers, so I do a lot of backing up the information that I might read on Twitter with either the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, or the San Francisco Chronicle,” Acalanes English Department Chair Cathy Challacombe said.

As social media drives out printed news, Challacombe remains passionate about preserving traditional journalism.

“Journalism is struggling. Newspapers are going out of print. They’re being either sold or they’re just being closed down, especially local news. It’s very hard to get local news now. And journalism is, itself, an incredibly important function for a free society,” Challacombe said.

As younger generations continue to take in predominantly digital information, the pressing issue of fake news is more important than ever. Social media algorithms allow information to travel faster if it is entertaining, no matter how accurate it is. Viewers must pick out factual information from videos, colorful images, and other embellishments when using social media.

“As soon as you find that there’s a lot of flashy colors or flashy music or something like that, ask yourself, ‘Is this being used to distract me?’ ‘Is there a better source for this kind of information?’ That gives me a little bit more of richness, or in depth and information,” Challacombe said.

With the threat of false narratives spreading rapidly through online platforms, some students take steps to learn the truth regarding information they see on social media. 

“I’ll cross-reference what I see on social media with articles that my parents give me and if it’s credible, like it’s verified, or if it’s The Washington Post or The New York Times, titles that have been reliable in the past, I usually believe them,” Acalanes sophomore Eva McGrath said.

Despite attempts to stay safe while navigating news on social media, some adults think that young people can’t escape the harmful effects of digital news.

Social media “affects how [students] look at information. It affects their attention span. It affects what they think information looks like,” Challacombe said. “So I think that that’s an issue, then just the constant misinformation, the desire to be entertained, that impacts how they take in information or even entertainment.”

That is what draws so many teenagers’ attention away from established journalism and toward social media’s style of news. A humorous, dramatic TikTok making fun of a current issue is more entertaining to them than reading an article in the Washington Post. Without moving images and clickbait content, students aren’t willing to go offline for information or pay much attention to it.

“So if you’re handing out textbooks, those sorts of things, [students are] not going to have that moving component. I think that they are easily bored. They don’t have the stamina for looking at a textbook or reading for as long as I think they should,” Challacombe said.

Although having more access to news and information has its benefits, young people are hindered by not consuming traditional media. 

“On one hand, teenagers have more access to news, so we are able to be in the know and be somewhat involved in current issues, which I think is good. On the other hand, there is a lot of fake news on social media, and a reliance on it can spread it more easily, which can lead to misinformation,” Thomason said.