This column had four different introductions before I decided on counting them, drinking a glass of chocolate milk and then writing this sentence. And boy am I glad I wrote it. Look at it there in its stunning radiance. Truth is, it’s been a difficult week. Monday was most unpleasant. Alexander thinks he had a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” in the popular children’s book. Well, Alexander, you never had a senior thesis. It’s digging its way into my damaged psyche like a goddamn deer tick — unrelenting, painful and prone to lime disease. But that same Monday morning, for a few, brief moments, I had some free time. I took a Daily Cal, sat down on a bench outside Dwinelle (careful to avoid hobo stains and squirrels) and read.
It was the first time in a long time that I didn’t wish to be watching television instead. I looked around and I saw a student next to me reading a pamphlet for the V.O.I.C.E. Initiative. And it was at that moment that a stark realization struck me: I couldn’t read. No. I know how to read. Pinky promise. But something did strike me and it wasn’t just the incessant squirrels in that area, poking around my feet for food crumbs. I finally came to the conclusion that not only is print journalism important or enjoyable on a fine, sunny morning. Print journalism is vital.
The argument for print isn’t novel, of course. Anyone over 50 will tell you newspapers are part of the standard morning routine (along with a spot of marmalade and maybe some auto-erotic asphyxiation). I’m not here to praise print journalism over exclusive online content or other periodical formats. I’m here to say that print, and especially daily print, has its own unique function in contrast to the other, popular public outlet for information: broadcast news.
On April 5, UC Berkeley’s own Knight Digital Media Center uploaded an article entitled, “Print and Broadcast News and the Internet.” In the piece, the author states that though the Internet is fast becoming the central source that younger demographics turn to for information, “online revenues are still a small fraction of the income from traditional print or broadcast.” As of February 2012, the Nielsen ratings for NBC’s evening news programs gained an average weekly viewership of 9.5 million while CBS’s “60 Minutes” garnered 11.7 million for the week of April 2. In contrast, USA Today’s online circulation totaled just over 50,000 in late 2011 while their print edition still manages 1.8 million.
So, even though youths are turning more toward Internet content, the main battle for news coverage is still between TV and print. Statistics are only one component to this ongoing battle over news media outlets. The real clincher comes down to everyday experience and for that, print journalism still plays a pivotal role.
Broadcast news (and I’m including 24-hour networks like CNN and Fox News) suffers the same plight that TV sitcoms and dramas do: the ratings game. Quick, flashy and scandalous stories often take prominence over longer, more thoughtful pieces. I know what you’re thinking. One, Hostess products are delicious. Two, but what about shows like “60 Minutes” that feature comprehensive, thought-provoking material?
Fictional person, you are correct. Shows like “60 Minutes” do serve a similar function to that of print features. However, the stories they choose to tell must still fit within the strict and limiting parameters of the half-hour or hour format. Walter Cronkite hit the problem of broadcast news straight on when he compared it to “a little pill of news everyday — 23 minutes — and that’s supposed to be enough.”
He was right. It’s not enough. Print journalism is restricted in scope as well. This is true. But it is the permanence of the daily news that makes it a vital vehicle of documentation. It is a record of a day, of a city, of a local people and culture that can withstand the test of time and digital flux alike. The Daily Californian is part of this tradition and its print version deserves to be saved.