In her provocative monologue at this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, that seems to have drawn bellyaching laughter and sanctimonious outrage in equal measure, US comedian Michelle Wolf skewered pretty much everyone under the sun, as is often the way in this unique annual event, but pointedly deigned to spare the print media. Only to deliver the blow back-handed, by saying it was because “it is illegal to attack an endangered species.”
It spoke to the rampant disruption caused by technology that we have been witnessing for some time now within the industry, whereby the emergence of digital media platforms such as websites and apps have served in many cases to render print versions obsolete, particularly in countries that have taken to these changes most readily, the so-called early adopters. With the NASDAQ index for tech companies regularly overshooting itself and Silicon Valley in the US state of California assuming the stature of a powerful and assertive nation-state, for a while it did seem as if nothing would be allowed to stand in their way. Besides, the world had already witnessed what they did to the music industry. There was no reason to believe journalism would be spared.
And yet, twenty or so years later, not only is the media still here, even print is holding its own outside the traditional growth centres located mainly in the industrialised countries of the West. But thanks mainly to higher education levels now prevailing in the rapidly developing economies of the global South, and the greater credibility the accrues to the printed word. To cite the most shining example, newspaper circulation in India has grown from 39.1 million copies in 2006 to 62.8 million in 2016 – a 60 percent increase, according to figures maintained by the Audit Bureau of Circulation. And it’s not exactly as if Indians aren’t keen on technology.
Other factors also play into the resilience of print specifically (subscribing to or following certain print publications can bestow a reader with a particular status within societies, such as liberal or conservative, and the failure of digital platforms from really taking off as revenue generators, except if you’re Facebook or Google) and indeed, journalism more generally. What else is there really, to fill the essential role earmarked for journalists in democratic societies? Can we really imagine, can anyone actually even conceive democracy without the thrum and the thrill of a free press?
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May 4, 2018