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Print dying, journalism thrives

Print may not be dead but those who still glorify printed materials, including newspapers and books, are preventing the industry and society from taking the necessary steps to prepare society to enter into the digital era.

One hard truth those in self-denial refuse to swallow is that the printed world is a sunset industry. One would be much better off preparing not only for its inevitable demise, but more importantly, for an emerging society dominated by the digital world.

The National Convention on the Mass Media in Palembang this week hears two contrasting views of how the Internet impacts the media industry and society.

One camp still insists there is ample room for growth for the printed world, and the Internet will not replace the printed materials. Newspapers will survive just as they overcame earlier challenges from telex, the radio, television, facsimile and cable TV.

Another camp, which predicts 100 million Internet users in Indonesia in the next three years, asks the important question: Is Indonesia ready for the digital world? Andy Sjarief of Media Track believes that Indonesia can still take control of the direction of the Internet development, but it needs to get its act together.

The implied message is clear: Drop any pretension that the Internet is not a threat and start entering the new digital world to make sure that we don’t lose out in the fierce global competition, unleashed by the ongoing revolution of the communication and information technology.

Being a sunset industry means it is only a matter of time before the printed world loses its relevance. The experience of the United States and Europe tells us that it is not so much a question of people ceasing to read or buy newspapers, as a question of the industry losing its commercial viability. The writing had been on the wall for some years, and the economic recession helped to speed up the demise of dozens of newspapers in the US by a few years.

Expect more titles to close down and migrate to the digital world in the coming years, including in Indonesia.

The sooner we accept that print is dying a slow death, the sooner we will be in making adjustments. In journalism, this means reinventing the profession to fit to the new situation, a world in which anyone, thanks to easy and cheap access to the Internet, can do the work that has traditionally been the domain of journalists: to disseminate information to the masses.

Professional journalists today have to compete with "netizens" or citizen journalists, including bloggers and just about everyone with accounts in social media like Twitter and Facebook, in breaking news and in spreading information. On many cases, they are breaking the news before even journalists reach the area, which raises the question, how should professional journalists respond?

In this kind of competitive environment, it is wrong to ignore the ground rules and ethics in journalism. If there is one thing that does not change in journalism — whether print, broadcast or the Internet — it is that credibility and trust continue to be the chief currencies underpinning this profession. Good journalism means sticking to the old and tested principles and values that make this profession the fourth pillar in democracy, including honesty, accuracy and fair reporting.

Print may be dying, but the traditional journalism will continue to live for far longer. When society suffers from a massive information overflow, good and honest journalism becomes even more, not less, relevant than ever.

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