Amidst the stacks of textbooks, paperbacks and course readers that come with the start of every new semester at Wesleyan, it is easy for me to forget that printed works are in any sort of danger. But for major newspapers around the country (and the world), the uncertain future of print media is a serious cause for alarm.
In the most recent edition of the Atlantic, Michael Hirschorn’s piece “End Times” details the financial woes at the New York Times and speculates how the collapse of daily print journalism might unfold. His boldest statement? That the New York Times could conceivably go out of business by May. Unsurprisingly, a representative from the Times quickly shot back a defensive response to Hirschorn’s article, claiming that it “leaves a lot to be desired from the standpoint of . . . well, journalism.”
Still, budget constraints at the New York Times are undeniable, and we’ve already begun to see their effect on life at Wesleyan. Vice President of the Wesleyan Student Assembly, Saul Carlin ’09, informed me that the increase in price per copy of the New York Times has forced the WSA to reduce the number of papers delivered to campus during the week from about 700 copies per day in fall 2007 to the current average of 400 copies per day.
Correspondence with the New York Times’ circulation department confirmed that increased production costs and the recent softening of the advertising market have affected the paper. Kevin Cappallo, the National Sales Director at the Times, assured me via email that despite the New York Times’ need to reduce expenses, the paper remains sensitive to its education rates and makes “every effort to control the cost of our newspaper to our student readers.”
But are students at Wesleyan only being negatively affected by the shift away from print media? Certainly not. Wesleying, the unofficial campus blog launched days before current juniors moved in to their freshman dorms, now averages nearly 3000 hits a day and helps inform its readers of events and activities all over campus. President Michael Roth’s blog, Roth on Wesleyan, allows students, alumni and parents to connect to the University’s president in a completely new and, I would argue, more engaging, manner than ever before. Meanwhile, the Argus’ decision to embrace the 21st century and revamp its online content allows for more user interaction, photos, videos— not to mention columnists. Moreover, online content reaches a much larger audience than print, has fewer price constraints, and is environmentally friendly to boot.
While I understand the many benefits of online publishing, and will admit to reading nytimes.com and Wesleying as much as the next Wesleyan student, the idea of a world without physical newspapers still bothers me. Holding a tangible copy of something in my hands somehow trumps the pixels of my MacBook screen. Given the print industry’s uncertain future, I can only hope that post-graduation when I have a non-Wes Box address and can afford the privilege of having a paper delivered to my doorstep, newspapers will still exist.