Tim Giago. Photo courtesy Native Sun News Today

Tim Giago: How long before the digital media replaces print newspapers?

Notes from Indian Country
How long before the digital media replaces print newspapers?

The foreign journalists admitted to the Nieman Fellowship Program at Harvard came to America to learn about freedom of the press. In my Class of 1991 there were 12 foreign journalists from countries like Russia, Poland, India, Nigeria, Columbia, Ecuador and Ghana. There were also 12 American journalists from newspapers like the Washington Post, Charlotte (NC) Observer, USA Today, Louisville Courier, Houston Chronicle, Philadelphia Enquirer, Indian Country Today and others.

In 1991 there were print newspapers like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Tucson Citizen and the Rocky Mountain News. All of these papers no longer print and the list of print newspapers vanishing from the scene grows with every passing year. In 1991 none of the Nieman Fellow Journalists even saw this coming. And as each newspaper locks its doors, a little more of freedom of the press is lost.

One of the joys I had in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was to go to the corner deli next to my apartment, get a big cup of coffee on a Sunday morning, and pick up a copy of the Boston Globe, a great newspaper. In my hometown our local newspaper, the Rapid City Journal, has cut down to 5 days. There is no longer a Sunday or Monday newspaper. And I miss that.

As a newspaper publisher with 40 years of publishing behind me I know the ups and downs of this business as good or better than anyone. I started a weekly newspaper on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the Jimmy Carter Administration when interest rates at most local banks was hovering at 21 percent. The Pine Ridge Reservation, or Shannon Country as it was known back then, had just been declared by the U. S. Census Bureau as the poorest county in America. If I had told any astute businessman or woman that I was going to start a newspaper under those conditions and circumstances they would have told me that I was crazy. But guess what: In 8 years my newspaper grew to be the largest weekly newspaper in the State of South Dakota.

Back then we did not have the one thing that is killing the newspaper industry: The Internet. With Google and Facebook gobbling up much of the advertising and with people going to their Smart Phones or computers for most of their news, print journalism as we knew it is on its death knell. And that’s too bad because dinosaurs from my generation still love their newspapers.

Advertising was the life-blood of newspapers. Local merchants took out ads in order to sell products and to bring customers into their places of business. These ads paid for the cost of printing the paper and for the salaries of the journalists and editors. And then these same merchants began placing their ads on the Internet. People began to get much of their news from the Internet.

Newspapers like our local daily had to cut back in order to survive and it wasn’t just in Rapid City, it is happening all over America. What is going to happen to these newspapers that are the watchdogs over our local, state and national governments? Will the attacks by the White House on the media stick in the minds of many Americans and eventually cause them to place all of their faith in the Internet media over their local newspapers?

The one thing our newspapers have always had over the news on the Internet is accountability. Newspapers must stand behind the words they publish. The Internet media does not. I miss my Sunday and Monday newspapers, but I understand why this had to happen. It is possible that all newspapers will go digital in the very near future and I dread that day. In the meantime we newspaper publishers will keep on punching and scratching to bring honest and reliable news to our readers. And I wonder about the future of the foreign journalists who come to America to learn about freedom of the press. How much longer will that freedom be around?

Contact Tim Giago at najournalist1@gmail.com. Giago was the recipient of the H. L. Mencken Award for Editorial Writing presented by the Baltimore Sun.

Note: Content © Tim Giago

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