The media’s been buzzing about John Oliver’s recent Last Week Tonight segment on modern journalism. You really ought to watch it yourself (beware a healthy dose of profanity), but the gist is not exactly breaking news: traditional newspapers are in big trouble. Faced with plummeting ad revenue and a public increasingly used to free, 24-hour news, papers are cutting qualified, capable journalists, and in exchange for clickbait. As Oliver quipped, “All the puppy news that’s fit to print and maybe some Iraq news, too, if we can afford it”
Why newspapers matter
But Oliver also emphasizes how dependent he and other online and TV reporters are on the legwork of journalists. And he explains that investigative journalists provide a valuable public service by keeping corruption in check and policing the powerful. Dropping readership or not, they can still have enormous impact. Last year we saw it in our own backyard: Though allegations of corruption in the office of Governor John Kitzhaber had been spreading for months, he only stepped down once The Oregonian, Portland’s leading paper, called for his departure.
Why newspapers matter to business
Oliver’s segment emphasized the value that newspaper journalism has for society and the general public, but he could have also discussed its importance for the business world. The A.wordsmith team turns to a range of outlets, but working with print media is an essential part of the PR toolbox. A.wordsmith clients, whether they realize it or not, benefit from local newspapers as individual citizens and as members of the business world.
It’s hard to say whether this will do anything to steer the newspaper industry in a new direction. Regardless, Oliver’s message is loud and clear: “A big part of the blame for this industry’s dire straits is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce.”