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Print may die but journalism won’t, veteran columnist says

By Amy Lee, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Print journalism will eventually end, says former Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, but the close of the print era hardly means the death of journalism.

Levey, a visiting journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, delivered a lecture Thursday on “the future of the media,” examining journalism in the digital age – and in the era of President Trump.

For Levey, sustaining responsible journalism requires overhauling the business models and content systems that guide the news industry today. As newspaper advertising has fled online to Craigslist, Facebook, Yahoo and Google, publishers have all but lost their ability to charge for news.

“If journalism is going to survive in its best form – authoritative, accurate, fair, unbiased and on the ball in terms of timing – the business problem is going to have to be solved or dealt with,” said Levey, who has been a working journalist for nearly 50 years, including 36 as a reporter and columnist at The Washington Post.

He compared The Post’s acquisition by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with The New York Time’s public ownership and resulting pressure of “being beholden to Wall Street.” Journalism requires revenue to thrive, and Levey discussed philanthropy and government funding as emerging channels of financial support for news sites.

Revamping media content for today’s audiences may be a more complicated task. Levey described a modern breed of readers who use news as a way to confirm, rather than challenge, their knowledge. This trend, Levey said, will only fragment audiences, promote intolerance and discourage fresh news sources and journalists in the field.

“We no longer trust news sources to open our eyes to things we don’t know, and we don’t seek them to provide things that we don’t know,” Levey said, speaking to several hundred people gathered in the VCU Commons Theater and watching the lecture online.

“We are going home. We are going to a stripe and a political orientation that we know, that we expect and that we trust.”

Equally troubling to the landscape of journalism is the popularity of online platforms that seek to cement an identity somewhere between legitimate news and pop-culture listicles.

Case in point: BuzzFeed and its decision to publish private information regarding then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s personal life. Levey criticized online news outlet for presenting the information to readers without a filter of journalistic standards. Responsible journalism involving editing, and a brand of accuracy will always exist, he said, but it must increasingly compete with content that shies away from editorial involvement and responsibility.

Toward the end of his lecture, Levey outlined his predictions for the future of journalism and received questions from the audience. Newspapers will eventually halt circulation, Levey said, and television and radio news will continue to decline each year.

As for the internet, Levey predicts Facebook will rise as a dominant publisher of journalism in a time as media outlets are sucked into larger enterprises, much in the way of The Washington Post and Amazon.

After fielding questions about censorship, commoditization of content and journalism ethics, Levey summarized his thoughts regarding journalism’s future as the lecture drew to a close.

“Journalism depends on patience, time and editing,” he said. “My money’s on journalism. We always find a way.”

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