The internet is here to stay, but print media is incompatible with the cleaner future we're trying to build ourselves
When was the last time you grabbed a physical copy of a newspaper? I'd wager a guess that its been a while – if ever. Even if you did pick one up recently, do you get them every day they're printed? I thought not. I don't blame you - print newspapers are inconvenient at best in the modern age. There are hundreds of tabloid and broadsheet titles in circulation around the UK alone – but through your smartphone almost every article is available at your fingertips. The advent of portable computing has been heralded as the "digital revolution" - but it came at a cost, and that cost was print sales. In the first half of 2010 The Guardian, after an already monumental fall in circulation from its peak in the early 2000s, was circulating 264,000 copies per issue in the UK. By the first half of 2016 this had fallen again to 164,000, and it's been falling ever since. Some predict that in the near future print journalism may be forced entirely into extinction. But should we be attempting to save the industry before we're forced to turn off the life support?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: a move to online media platforms for print articles doesn't affect the quality of the writing or the information at hand, and actually opens the user up to a far wider array of articles and viewpoints than can be contained solely inside a print edition. You can access the information that you are interested in without having to sift through "page 3 girls" and irrelevant news when you're only looking for your horoscope. Not only this, but the online revolution has provided a more comprehensive representation in those writing articles for publication, which the industry and the country in general can only benefit from. The internet opens journalism up to minorities in a way that traditional print has failed. No longer must you live in London to be an editor at a famous national paper; now you can access news from anywhere, from any date, in seconds without even having to leave your home. It’s a win-win.
Yet, by far the biggest reason I see to hold back on the resuscitation is the environmental impact of moving online. The problem is far larger than just the areas of land cleared through deforestation. We're living in a water crisis if you didn’t know – and paper production and distribution is heavy on its water usage: it takes roughly 30 litres of water to produce one copy of a newspaper. Now multiply that by the millions of copies that are still in circulation every day in the UK alone. That's a lot of water waste for an item that most will throw away at the end of the day. Speaking of throwing away, many people may recycle them, lowering the ultimate carbon footprint; but how many newspapers do you see left on the streets or in bus shelter bins? In a city like Glasgow the answer is a lot, and this is all waste that can be avoided by just reading the same articles online. The paper industry is the fifth biggest energy user on the planet, using 4% of the world's energy purely to manufacture paper, and that doesn't even account for the printing of newspapers or the waste resulting from them. To add to that, newspaper production begins at the writing stage, and think of all those offices with the energy being used to light them, heat them and generally keep them running on a day to day basis. You could argue that the energy usage to spend so much time on the internet is also a problem, but moving towards cleaner energy consumption and reducing waste is the main global goal for the next 10 years – the internet is here to stay, but print media is incompatible with the cleaner future we're trying to build ourselves.
Don't get me wrong: just because I own a Kindle doesn't mean I don't love my books. It may be materialistic, but there's just such a joy in a shelf jammed full of dog-eared paperbacks. But books are a keepsake to most, and the single-use culture of print journalism is simply too wasteful in our landfill-conscious era to justify keeping the flagging industry on life-support. Keep recycling them while you can, but in the not-too-distant-future you may not have to.