Media Lives On
By Wayne Epps, Jr.
“Newspapers are dying” is something that one may hear and think about prominently in reference to the journalism industry today with less papers being sold, and more news moving to digital mediums. However, Brian Couturier, managing editor of The Progress-Index newspaper in Petersburg, Va., disagrees with that viewpoint. He expressed those sentiments and more in a speech to high school journalism students at Prince George High School on Thurs., May 17.
Couturier, 48, has been involved in the journalism profession for approximately 26 years. The New Hampshire native received a bachelor’s business degree from the University of New Hampshire before getting a master’s degree in journalism at American University in Washington, D.C. It was in New Hampshire where Couturier gained his first experiences in the journalism profession, covering news and politics.
Couturier has also spent time at papers including The Public Opinion in Chambersburg, Pa., The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., The Herald-Mail in Hagerstown, Md., and the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va., before moving on to The Progress-Index. In addition to being a journalist, Couturier has been an adjunct journalism professor for over 20 years. In his speech, he expressed several facts about journalism and the media for the group of aspiring journalists.
The journalist began his speech by talking of how the newspaper industry boomed in its beginning. This success continued through the start of the 20th Century and up until around 1950. Around this time, other forms of media like radio and TV took over. Radio was the first alternative form of media to have success, and then TV killed radio around the 1970s.
Over the past decade, the blowup of internet news has hurt the newspaper industry. With the industry already hurting from the growth of digital news, the economic punch thrown by the Great Recession of 2008 has further hurt the industry.
From 2005 to 2010 alone, 20% of jobs in the journalism industry were lost. The losses reached a point where a website began tracking the shrinking number of jobs.
“There’s a website called papercut.com that would literally tally the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost,” Couturier said.
According to Couturier, where the newspaper business was really hit was in ad revenues. Ads provide approximately two-thirds of revenue for newspapers.
However, in the words of Couturier, “it’s not all doom and gloom.” The newspaper industry brings in a substantial amount of profit compared to other businesses. Before the recession, newspaper companies made around 27% profit. Now, after the recession, companies are still making around 15% profit.
“What happened is the business model broke,” Couturier said. “That profit business model broke.”
Couturier advises journalists not to think of themselves as being in the newspaper business, but rather in the information business.
“Information is power,” he said. “And we’re in the information business.”
Couturier continued to stress the idea of the power that the media holds. He provided examples of how the media is technically the only business that was expressly mentioned and protected in the Constitution with the right of free press. In addition, he stressed how information is freedom, especially in countries subject to dictator rule, as the leaders limit the flow of news to their citizens.
“Many countries in the world, they’re not free,” Couturier said. “Well guess why? The media.”
Despite what some say, the basic foundation of journalism has not changed much, according to Couturier. He mentioned how, when he started in the profession in the 1980s, he not only carried a reporter’s notebook, but a camera as well, much like journalists of today.
“You have to get information, you have to write about it, and you have to present it,” Couturier said. “That’s not changing.”
Couturier did offer some opinions on new media, however, especially blogs. He joked that when someone says they are a blogger, he thinks of them as unemployed. He does not see blogs as containing useful news or information.
“Blogs, they’re almost like yesterday’s news,” Couturier said.
With some worried about the uncertainty of journalism as a profession, Couturier left the aspiring journalists in the crowd with hope about the years to come.
‘I’ve been hearing that the newspaper business has been dying for 26 years,” he said. “And it’s still here.”
*Congratulations to Wayne Epps, Jr. for winning the Dow Jones News Fund Scholarship with this winning article.