How the Media Industry Keeps Losing the Future

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Cutbacks were just announced at Law360, The Intercept and the youth-oriented video site NowThis, which laid off half its staff. The tech news site Engadget, which comprehensively tracks tech layoffs, laid off its top editors and other staff members. Condé Nast and Time are shedding employees. The continued existence of Vice Media, once valued at $5.7 billion, and Sports Illustrated, in another era the most influential sports publication, is uncertain. The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post eliminated hundreds of journalists between them. One out of four newspapers that existed in 2005 no longer does.

The slow crash of newspapers and magazines would be of limited interest save for one thing: Traditional media had at its core the exalted and difficult mission of communicating information about the world. From investigative reports on government to coverage of local politicians, the news served to make all the institutions and individuals covered a bit more transparent and, possibly, more honest.

The advice columns, movie reviews, recipes, stock data, weather report and just about everything else in newspapers moved easily online — except the news itself. Local and regional coverage had a hard time establishing itself as a paying proposition.

Now there are signs that the whole concept of “news” is fading. Asked where they get their local news, nearly as many respondents to a Gallup poll said social media as mentioned newspapers and magazines. A recent attempt to give people free subscriptions to their local papers in Pennsylvania as part of an academic study drew almost no takers.

“Soon after the printing press emerged in the 15th century, the scriptoriums for copying manuscripts in monasteries rapidly began shutting down,” said Mr. Fidler, now 81 and living in retirement in Santa Fe, N.M. “I’m not very optimistic about the survival of the majority of newspapers in the United States.”

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