OP-ED: Why we need to save the print media
A thriving print media is a crucial part of a successful democracy
The world is slowly waking up from the discomfort induced by the crown. The virus has wreaked havoc on lifestyles around the world, disrupting systems that have been in place for ages.
Every industry is in dire straits with the media taking a catastrophic hit. In fact, the media industry was already on a precarious platform before the coronavirus hit.
Some say the virus has sounded the death knell for media around the world. A former editor-in-chief of an English daily recently told me that while Corona was concerned about forcing people to cancel newspaper subscriptions, a sense of aversion to journalism as a career also manifested itself among young people because, in a highly competitive world where success is mainly synonymous with financial gain, an industry that struggles to survive is hardly attractive.
It is undeniable that journalism as a career, which was once seen as a life of adventure, freedom and respect in the 70s, 80s and 90s, has lost much of its appeal to today’s young people. who seem more willing to fit into a materialistic model approved by society.
Without passion, they cannot be blamed either, because when an industry does not offer security, adequate financial returns and social standing, its decline is inevitable.
For a multitude of reasons, the print media was already on uncertain foundations before the virus; with the lockdown and the precipitous drop in advertising and subscriptions, the future looks difficult.
But the media cannot be allowed to wither simply because it is one of the main pillars of a democratic society, reflecting both social virtues and vices.
An emaciated industry
Media taking the flak of those in power are seen all over the world with the bashing taken to a new level by the current US president; yet, he cannot operate as president without regular White House briefings.
As the election draws near, Democrats and Republicans will need the media to reflect the mood of the nation and to deliver on the candidates’ promises to the masses.
Love it or hate it, governments lose their legitimacy when the press is suppressed or left in ruins.
Since I have been involved in print media since 1993, the focus will be more on this sector, but I’m sure the concerns expressed apply to all sides – broadcast, online and others.
Let me go back to a career club seminar at Dhaka University in 2017 – well before Covid-19. At this event, attended by around 5,000 students eager to enter the job market, I was tasked with providing professional advice on how someone fresh out of college should approach the job market.
By the way, at the time I was in a multinational organization working in communications and when I asked how many wanted a career in journalism to my amazement not a single hand s’ is lifted. I only saw guilty smiles.
So why this aversion? These students and many others have been brainwashed with the idea that since journalism is an industry that cannot offer financial security, it is best avoided. And, unfortunately, yes, that also includes students in journalism departments.
All have eyes for multinationals without realizing that without sufficient media experience, the multinational’s communications post with the big salary they dream of will rarely materialize.
The mere ability to speak fluent English and the possession of a foreign diploma are hardly the criteria for judging an expert in communication.
A simple fact: an effective communications specialist is that person who has worked in the media and has unrestricted access to the industry.
Obviously, this media connection can only be established if one is working in the industry. There is no easy way to reach communications heaven!
To look at the apathetic attitude towards print media as a profession, we have to accept that, since there are very few incentives in this industry, a career in journalism hardly appeals to young people today.
In a mad rush to get a better paying job, the media is neglected, and the country will be the ultimate loser as talented young people will be in other sectors, leaving the print media in a rut.
Tell me, is this a positive sign for a nation? A thriving print media industry acts as a vocal social gatekeeper, touting the positives, denouncing the negatives, demanding swift action for improvement.
Some would argue that in an era when social media-based journalism is gaining ground, traditional print media will lose its appeal. Well, this is a misguided perspective because, while social media journalism has brought power to the citizen, there is always the possibility of gross manipulation / distortion.
On the contrary, most traditional print media publications refrain from printing anything without proper verification. Additionally, in-depth, unbiased investigative analyzes of social aberrations are best presented in traditional journalism formats.
The government must come forward to give the industry a boost to serve a pivotal structure of democracy that has been devastated by the coronavirus.
If the print media is allowed to languish in its current state, the repercussions will include: and, worryingly, c) the surrender of many journalists to immoral enterprises in order to make ends meet.
Sadly, during the coronavirus lockdown, a prominent English daily abruptly stopped printing, although its owning house is said to be the country’s leading business conglomerate.
Needless to say, such a capricious decision causes irreparable damage to the industry. Naturally, those who study mass communication and journalism at different public and private universities will hardly want to enter an industry rife with uncertainty.
This means that in the long run the number of journalism students will also drop and in about five to ten years we will see a serious shortage of people in the media.
I can clearly see the cycle of destruction: Lack of students, dislike of journalism ultimately leading to the lack of a sharp media industry.
From another angle: it will be the end of critical-creative thinking.
It is not wrong to say that it is in the best interests of any government to have a print media industry (with more online distribution) that is strong and analytical. Emasculated media will also invite ridicule at home and abroad.
I have been involved in the print media in Bangladesh since the early 90s and was fortunate to see its peak in the late 90s when the national dailies were not only newspapers but also social institutions. respectable and monumental that commanded respect.
Around this time, several business conglomerates injected massive liquidity into the sector, attracting people with degrees from local and foreign universities.
The print media are now in a dying state with the situation exacerbated by the virus. The unvarnished truth is that without some government initiative the industry will be wiped out.
In our current frenzy to pick up the pieces of life made chaotic by the coronavirus, the plight of the media may not be immediately noticed; however, the ramifications of inaction will be serious.
And, one day, we may regret the fact that we killed journalism with our apathy.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.