By Erin Whitney
February 22, 2021
In a world of digital technology and social media, some can’t help but question: are newspapers a dying industry? As technology develops, so does the media. In recent years, people are turning more and more to digital sources to get their news. This has both positive and negative aspects: information is more accessible, but ‘clickbait culture’ is a growing phenomenon.
Paper newspapers are on the decline due to growing digital news platforms. Lee Enterprises, the media company that owns most of the large local newspapers in the country, has seen a decrease in business for the last fifteen years. In 2004, their stock began to plummet rapidly from almost fifty dollars a share. For the last five to ten years, the price for a single stock has plateaued around three dollars, a decrease of about 94%. This may be a sign that paper newspapers will soon be a thing of the past as news goes digital.
According to a study conducted by Microsoft, the human attention span has fallen by 25%, from 12 to 8 seconds, in the last 20 years; if one’s interest is not captured in that window, their attention will be lost. Social media is designed to elicit dopamine (a short-term, ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter) hits to its users so that they want to stay on the site or app longer, leading to higher ad revenue for companies like Facebook (who also owns Instagram). Because of the constant dopamine hits, social media has an addictive effect on its users. After they’re sucked in, they subconsciously crave that feeling more and more, which is where the clickbait business model comes in: enticing, flashy headlines guarantee a click because users feel a potential dopamine reward. This can lead to false or misleading headlines: journalists will put anything in their title to get more readers.
Along with new clickbait strategies, media companies have started to use artificial intelligence to write articles. Bloomberg News has Project Cyborg, Forbes has their A.I. Bertie, and the Washington Post has Heliograf. All one must do to output an article is input information to these programs. The information is then turned into a legible, albeit monotonous, story ready for publication. As artificial intelligence is on the rise, the media may be yet another industry in which human workers are replaced with programs.
Between paper newspapers transitioning to an online format, new and flashy (and often inaccurate) headlines, and AI, the news is ushering in a new era. While it may look a little different, there will always be a need for information, so people can depend on the news sticking around for a long time.