WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

As Legacy Journalism Implodes, Trade Press Maintains Trust

Media advertising dollars began moving from print to the internet in the 1990s, and the still-accelerating trend has doomed many print publications.

Layoffs and buyouts have hit the Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN and Vox Media in recent months, among others. The past week brought the news that the new owners of Sports Illustrated magazine, praised in the past for excellent writing, laid off its entire staff; it’s not clear whether the magazine will be revived in any form.  The staff of the Los Angeles Times were locked out after walking out to protest a 20 percent cut in editorial staff. One employment agency estimates that the news industry saw the loss of 2,681 jobs through the end of last November.

Media observers debate whether the American public’s loss of trust in media outlets preceded or was caused by the shift to the internet and the rise of social media. A recent poll of which news sources Americans trust found that only the Weather Channel enjoyed relatively widespread trust, with 53 percent saying it is trustworthy. No legacy media brand earned more than a quarter share of “trust.”

Businesses must have some kind of presence on social media. Some sites can be useful tools for generating leads, spreading content and marketing. At one time, some argued that social media could replace traditional journalism, since “we are all journalists now.”

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Few believe that today. According to the National Center for Health Research, most adolescents and young adults use social media; 35 percent report using at least one social media platform “almost constantly,” and 54 percent say it is difficult to “give up” social media. About 36 percent admit to spending excessive time on it. The most popular social media platforms are YouTube (95 percent), TikTok (67 percent), Instagram (62 percent), Snapchat (59 percent) and Facebook (32 percent). Videos seem to have replaced reading for many young people as a primary information source. Forty-five percent of social media users feel overwhelmed by the amount of information shared. Social media use has been implicated in the rise of anxiety and mental illness among teens.

The rise of artificial intelligence and its ability to create “deepfakes” have only deepened distrust of social media, as have platform’s algorithms that steer content toward users based on perceived popularity rather than accuracy.

Search engine results have nothing in common with what they were just 10 or 15 years ago. Today they are “pay for play,” with the first few pages of any search term being weighted toward those interests that have paid to rank them.

One media category has held its own amid all the changes: trade publications. As the “free information” model fails, legacy media outlets go out of business and remaining journalism moves behind paywalls in specialized newsletters, the internet is catching up with what trade publications have always known: Readers will pay for, and trust, information and ads that closely reflect their interests, presented by industry insiders and experts.

It’s that customer trust that has kept The Waterways Journal  relevant to the inland waterways community since it was founded in 1887, at a time when the barge industry itself was thought to be near extinction. Throughout the long road since, it’s been our privilege to serve the people who keep the inland waterways, ports and terminals running and bringing prosperity to the American people.