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The Decline of the Media and the Future of the Historical Profession


This may not seem like a major issue for the present, but it kind of is. As everyone knows, the local newspaper is basically dead. My parents are long-time newspaper subscribers. Their local daily is now a sliver of what it once was and is mostly stuff that comes from USA Today. On liberal sites like this, we have had lots of conversations about this in terms of the what this means for journalists and for local news coverage. It ain’t good.

But I think we would all like to see future histories of the Trump years, for instance. How will they be written? I am working on this big book on the modern Northwest and one critical source material for it is archived newspapers. They are both sources of news gold, coming from often very good local reporting, and letters to the editor, which are mostly pure crank, also useful in their way. I was recently on a research trip in Oregon and I was looking at the archival collection of a now deceased reporter who had worked for papers in Oregon and southwest Washington for 30 years. It was a huge archive of material, mostly on environmental issues, but also other things she was assigned to work on.

How will we possibly find out this kind of information in 2049 to write about 2019? What parts of the internet will even be available? Where will the local reporting be? Maybe comment sections have historical value? But that stuff has lots its local flavor versus just national crank sitting at home spamming everywhere.

These are real issues for the future of history, especially telling our big national stories at the local level, where they need to be told. I suppose we will still be able to write macro-level political histories but those are pretty limited in providing broader understanding of a time period.

Of course, there probably won’t be historians working at most colleges and universities anyway, as students will pay $100,000 a year to major in whatever job training program employers are demanding in a given year for jobs that won’t exist 10 years later.

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