Jonathan Korn argues that the internet age signals the death of print journalism, but insists that Redbrick still thrives in print form
‘Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’
Winston Churchill was not talking about print journalism, but he easily could have been. The Independent, a newspaper with a circulation of nearly 400,000 in 1993, has disbanded its print edition. The Sun has seen its readership drop by a half in ten years. Across the UK and the Western world as a whole, print is mortally wounded with little hope of a miraculous recovery. Instant online news and a lack of journalistic innovation indicate the death knell of broadsheets and tabloids alike, with seemingly no newspaper spared. Be it through the BBC, Twitter or Buzzfeed, the wealth of online resources through which one can instantly access news makes waiting half a day for a few sheets of A3 which tell you what you already knew seem a little pointless. Editors and journalists struggle to captivate audiences with the written word anymore, and even when they do, a newspaper’s ‘highlights’ are instantly made accessible online anyway. Far from the end of the beginning, journalism in print appears to be nearing the beginning of the end.
In our internet age, there is a paradox in that journalism is easier than ever, whilst journalists themselves are struggling more and more. Those who write articles have a wealth of information from which to do so, but the problem is that readers know this, and can simply cut out the middleman by finding the information online themselves. Journalists do not help themselves here, as pulling easy-to-access information from online rather than digging deeper is often too tempting to resist. This is luxury that columnists of the past did not have. However, it means that as a source of truly reliable and well-researched news, print journalism falls well short of where it should be.
Johannes Gutenberg (the inventor of the printing press) seems to have been superseded by Mark Zuckerberg. However, in amongst the doom and gloom, one bright spark remains: Redbrick.
The University of Birmingham’s newspaper has had a remarkable life since its inception in 1936. Reading editions and looking at images dating as far back as 1959 has allowed me to gaze into the bright light of its history, and the continuity is remarkable. Social action projects in support of refugees are just as much a feature of editions past as they are of those today. Passionate debates about the state of British politics still dominate the central pages of the Comment section. And the paper’s commitment to focusing on local and university issues crucial to its student population is no weaker in the era of May and Corbyn than it was in that of Wilson and Thatcher.
This is not to say the paper hasn’t changed. Newspapers ultimately reflect the views of their readers as well as shaping them, and reading editions of Redbrick past and present reminds this author of just how different 2018 is to the 1960’s. Apartheid South Africa was a regular topic of discussion in editions past, which serves a healthy reminder of how far the world has come. However passionately we argue about the single market and income tax rates today, arguments about separate drinking fountains are a thing of the past.
Stylistically, shorter titles and more dramatic font were the order of the day both in national newspapers and in Birmingham’s equivalent. Even something this seemingly innocuous should sound alarm bells. The less excitable style we see today simply reflects the fact that news is just not as enticing anymore. Instant news means the articles we read in print are rarely groundbreaking or original, and whilst Redbrick appears immune (so far) to the decline of the paper, even the most optimistic of observers cannot fail to notice the warning signs that the digital age brings for those in print.
Seventy years of news is no mean feat, and Redbrick should be proud of its long history. Its continued success is a reflection of the hard work writers and editors put into it. And whilst it is hard to see anything like a rosy future for print journalism at large, Redbrick in print form appears to be here to stay.