Above (and Beyond) the Fold

The alarm goes off, it’s 8 A.M – the rest of the world has started it’s day already and now it’s time for me to catch up. There is no daily publication awaiting me on my front steps, but I don’t have to leave bed to check the Twitter-verse. News slugs from The New York Times, Associated Press, Bangor Daily News and a few dozen other sources scroll beneath my fingertips as I begin to feel informed enough to start my day.

Admits my foggy dash to the Keurig I power on my MacBook and let the higher tech Gods work their magic. There is no cable news to accompany my morning cup o’ joe, that bill doesn’t fit into the college budget. But in the 3 minutes it takes for my coffee to brew, NPR’s homepage has loaded (and already refreshed itself) onto my screen, saving me from any ensuing media withdrawals.

We shouldn’t say that gone are the mornings of newsboys in bike fleets peddling around still-dark neighborhoods tossing the newest news of the day onto the lawns of groggily awaking moms and dads, because some nostalgically practical Americans are still consuming their news this way.

However, with the millennial generation quickly aging onto the news consumption market and a rise in the tide of Americans who consider themselves “digitally-connected”, the structure of the journalism industry is having to revitalize and adapt itself to the morning routines of those like me – the ones that start with a programmed cell phone alarm and are sustained on instant cups of coffee and a consistent stream of push-notifications.

Though don’t be fooled,  this change over to online content is not breaking news. The industry saw the dawn of the Internet explode onto the horizon in the 1990s.

As Clay Shirky describes in his article, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” the issue news producers faced early on in the technological outbreak wasn’t that they didn’t see the internet coming, the issue was that instead of adapting they tried to overcome this digital revolution.”When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry,” Shirky said.

When this reality struck no one in the industry wanted to think that newspapers might have to be sacrificed along the way to journalistic and economic salvation –  as if somewhere along the way journalism itself had been intertwined with the newspaper.

Fists up against the onslaught of free-content competition news companies pondered any options that would salvage the newspaper: new payment plans were devised, proposals on becoming completely ad supported thrown around, and even the possibility of copyright lawsuits crossed many minds. But before the newspapers could get out their final breath, the public had spoken, and they preferred the speed and convenience of online news consumption.

Despite enduring a colorful history of technological adaptations, somewhere along the way the industry forgot that it has been born and reborn.

The journalism industry that was awarded “freedom of the press” in the First Amendment is not the same journalism industry that we are now an audience to. It was Benjamin Day in 1833 who re-birthed the industry from a foundation of party-politics circulations to the “news-for-all” format we are still consuming today.

“If he appealed to one party, he might lose readers from another. If he priced his paper any higher, he would lose poorer readers.” Chistopher B. Daly – Covering America, Putting the News in Newspapers

Innovations in printing processes allowed Day to sell his Sun Journal for a mere penny on the streets of New York. Changes in society affected and enhanced his success by supplying a growing urban middle-class population that had a demand for news content.

Much like the Penny Press of Day’s era, online news platforms are allowing for cheaper production of news content which can then be circulated to a larger number of readers than traditional news mediums could allow. While many newspapers are scared to answer the question ‘what their place in the future of journalism might be?’ – they need to be confident that the answer is relative to their journalism NOT their medium.

News organizations like The New York Time are realizing their worth and are conscious of the fact that their publication can no longer survive without an online presence. While their website does include a pay-wall that kicks in after you have read 10 articles in one month, they are making a valued effort to maintain traffic and interest in their organization through digital outlets that the consumers want.

In the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times, we can see first-hand how news organizations are dealing with external and internal conflicts that the advent of online content is creating.  At the forefront of this film we see writer David Carr, card carrying member to the old school of journalism, and his NYT colleague Brian Stelter, the digital over-achiever with screens coming at him in every direction.

An integral struggle of journalism that we can see played out through these two writers is the inevitable “cave to technology” that journalists are going to have to make. In this instance, it was Carr who caved to the future.

He’s adapting well… and staying true to form.

Carr’s presence on Twitter is an example of how traditional journalism is interacting with “the stream” – what Alexis Madrigal described in the article, 2013: The Year the Stream Crested, as the endless information that flows continuously on the Internet.

What this stream of information is doing is creating a sense of “nowness,” where we’re seeking the newest and most relevant information pertaining to almost anything: news,technology, social media, entertainment, etc.

Finding the middle-ground between the ‘stream’ and reliable, objective journalism is going to be what the next generation of journalists needs to discover. In today’s rapidly moving, can’t and won’t sit down for anything world, journalism that will catch the eye of the average news reader can’t just aim to be A1 above-the fold-journalism, it needs to aim beyond that in a way that only the vast endlessness of the Internet can provide.






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