“When you come to the end of one time and the beginning of a new one, it’s a period of tremendous pain and turmoil.” – Joseph Campbell in “The Power of Myth”
It seems we are living in such a time now. The rise and growing reach of the internet has radically altered the way we communicate, do business and manage our lives. Huge and increasing disparities of wealth challenge our idea of what a just and equitable society should be. The increasing power of China in the east and nativist populism in the United Kingdom, Europe and America are roiling national and global politics. Toxic social media and civic strife are on the rise.
Normalcy? Say goodbye.
Newspapers are no exception to the sweep of time and turmoil.
When I started my journalism career in the early 1970s, in the warm afterglow of Watergate, the print press was still the dominant communications medium in terms of prestige and influence. Data from the Pew Research Center tell the story: newspaper circulation rose through the early part of the last century to peak in the late 1980s. It has been on a steady decline since then.
Mike Royko, writing in the last edition of the Chicago Daily News in 1978 (after 102 years of operation), said the paper’s circulation dropped 20,000 the day the Edens Expressway opened on Dec. 20, 1951. Why? Former strap hangers who had previously bought the paper on their way to the train were now driving home and turning on TV news instead.
Now the internet is the information highway. According to Apple News, Facebook has become “the world’s de facto morning newspaper.”
Should we care that print newspapers are no longer at the vital center of American readership and democracy? Thomas Jefferson thought so. “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people,” he wrote, “the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
Jefferson lived two centuries before the internet. He might have been less than sanguine about current trends, which indicate that internet readers spend far less time perusing the news than print readers. That will change too.
Two weeks ago the RoundTable announced its print edition was taking a break, during which time the paper planned to upgrade its online edition and review different print options. In other words, we are not immune from change either.
All we know for sure is that continuing to provide strong local news – especially here in Evanston – will be critical to the community’s wellbeing. Local news coverage is the linchpin of local life. Evanston needs the RoundTable and we plan to be around – change notwithstanding – for a long time.