The death of ‘The Onion’?

‘The Onion’ To Halt Decades-Long Assault on Trees

Print newspapers have been struggling for the last two decades, with many of them going bankrupt, stopping production or moving to web only versions in response to the dwindling sales numbers and even more scarce advertising revenue. This is not a joke, guys… even “The Onion” is stopping print production of its paper.

The paper’s last print version will be distributed in December, after which content will be available online only.

Is this symbolic of the death of the news industry as a whole? Let’s take a quick look at the health of the news as of today:

The news industry has fallen under critical eyes throughout history, but especially recently, as papers scramble to scrape up ad revenue and cut corners to cut costs at the printer. A major criticism of the news industry today is that it’s all about which stories will sell over the stories that matter.

While that’s true (news organizations cannot function without raking in some money, and since no one seems willing to pay for the news online, it’s gotta come from somewhere), the public doesn’t seem to care that all they read about now are scandals. Think about how many articles are shared on your Facebook feed. I’m willing to bet most of them are scandals, controversies or cute animals. How many of them are about the school district? Or Syria? Or typhoon Haiyan? The numbers don’t lie; stories like this get more “clicks.” And more “clicks” = more moolah.

Self-proclaimed media manipulator Ryan Holiday’s book, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, touches on this “clicks over content” theory:

“A click is a click and a pageview is a pageview […] The headline is there to get you to view the article, end of story. Whether you get anything out of it is irrelevant — the click already happened.” (73)

We complain that the news industry isn’t what it should be; objective, impartial and unconcerned with dollar signs, but the fact of the matter is that we perpetuate this cycle by contributing our “clicks,” which reinforce news sites’ posting of content that we say we don’t want, but ultimately read and share.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t “real” news stories being produced. The unfortunate truth is that most people just don’t care to find these “real” stories. They want twerk videos and baby pandas.

So, is the print “death” of “The Onion” and other papers indicative of the beginning of the end of the news industry as we know it? I don’t think so. As Holiday discussed later in his book, the news industry saw a similar fight in the late 1900’s with the advent of yellow journalism. News organizations are simply facing a period of confusion as they change from a print medium to an online one.