The Need for Print Media in a Digital World: Accountability

Printing and circulating a newspaper is not economical given the ability to instantly publish content online. When you add up the costs of the paper, ink, machinery, trucks, and employees required to get a paper from the newsroom to your driveway, it doesn’t seem worth it.

Some newspapers have cut back their print circulation. Others have gone paperless and only provide their content in a digital format. Still others, like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, have adopted a hybrid model: they produce a wealth of online content while printing and circulating a daily paper.

But print has one important advantage over digital media that may contribute to its staying power.

Factual errors are inevitable when it comes to reporting breaking news. A respectable news organization understands that and is committed to providing timely corrections. In print, the earliest corrections can appear is the next time the publication is set to print. Online, corrections can be made instantly.

Given the instant gratification of publishing content online and the ease of correcting it, editorial oversight gets sidestepped in digital media. On the contrary, once the news is in print and has reached the hands and eyes of millions of people, damage control becomes more difficult. Editors may therefore scrutinize print stories more so than online stories.

And there lies the paradox. While the spread of factual errors is problematic in print through word-of-mouth among its readership, it is far worse online. Internet users are even quicker to distribute new information, true or otherwise, by posting it in their social media circles.

A news organization, with the good intention of informing the public, can publish misinformation about a breaking news event online. But no matter how quickly they get to making the correction, it is possible for that misinformation to spread halfway around the world in mere seconds as Facebook and Twitter users race their way to becoming the first one to leak the news or express their condolences to their online friends.

This is not to say that online news is not important. It has the power to quickly inform millions of people about pressing issues. But I think we still have a lot to learn from print as we make the transition.

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