The stunning announcement that Hosni Mubarak was resigning from Egypt’s presidency in response to widespread civil protests—in which the media played no small part—is yet again a reminder of journalism’s democratic purpose. Coupled with AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post, it also illustrates the rapid changes journalism has undergone of late.
Ideally, a free press serves as one of many checks and balances in the political system, fosters accountability, provides a public forum for diverse voices, and builds an informed citizenry that can participate in the democratic process. It preserves democracy where it exists and even helps to foster democracy where it does not. When obstructed from fulfilling these roles, the media not only fail to advance democratic governance, but can actively undermine it.
But a fundamental question dominates the industry today: How can the media, especially in Latin America, continue to fulfill its essential roles in the face of continuous challenges?
Renowned Mexican journalist and writer Alma Guillermoprieto warned that the paper editions of Latin American newspapers may soon disappear if they don’t adapt to new multimedia tools. Guillermoprieto, who is headlining a journalism workshop in Guadalajara, Mexico, this week, predicted that newspapers will continue but “supported by platforms that right now we don't even imagine will exist." The region’s newspapers face a “grave risk” and are in worse shape than North American or European ones partly due to their lack of credibility in the eyes of the general public, according to Guillermoprieto.
Her comments come at a time of increased concern about the future of newspapers. Last year was the industry’s worst, with advertising revenues falling $10 billion, or 27.2 percent, when compared with 2008. Some are now seeing new devices such as the iPad as possible saviors for the newspaper industry. Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Wall Street Journal commented yesterday that more iPad-like devices and less paper edition newspapers might be the way to save the industry.
For more on Alma Guillermoprieto, read her forthcoming article, “Poverty of Opportunity: Crime's Breeding Ground,” in the forthcoming Spring 2010 issue of Americas Quarterly. Guillermoprieto writes about the disconnect between Latin America's economic advances in the past two decades and the prospects and opportunities available for the region's youth. Her article will be published on May.