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ECONOMICS AND ESOTERICA FOR A NEW PARADIGM

World without newspapers

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by Rick Ackerman Posted March 3, 2009

Original title: Imagine a World Without Newspapers

PRINT NEWS IS DYING, and we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the Internet will somehow replace it. In the last week alone, the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News folded and the San Francisco Chronicle was talking about a possible bankruptcy. Nearly every large paper in the country could be gone within three to five years. The trend is unstoppable, and it threatens to drastically limit the quality and variety of news that we receive and have come to depend on each day. Many Americans evidently think they’ll be able to get their news from the Web and that the death of newspapers is no big deal. In fact, it is a very big deal, since nearly all of the news published online is gathered and written the old-fashioned way – i.e., by a vast, global network of reporters employed by brick-and-mortar newspapers.

That network has been dwindling rapidly, however, and it is unlikely the casualties will ever be replaced. In order to save on newsprint costs, newspapers have been shrinking to survive. That leaves less space for news, reducing the need for reporters. As a result, it is now almost impossible for journalism-school graduates or even veteran reporters to find work.

We have many friends in journalism, having worked as a reporter and editor from 1971-78. One of them searched extensively for a managing editor’s job, finally landing a spot with a small paper in the Midwest. This man had talent and experience to burn, including a stint running a bureau for the Associated Press. But even with his excellent professional connections, it took him six years to get hired. Another friend of ours, a top state-house reporter and Pulitzer winner, recently took a buy-out from the troubled Newark Star-Ledger to work for the state treasurer. And a third, also a Pulitzer winner, got the news recently that his employer, the Philadelphia Inquirer, was considering bankruptcy.

Viagra Will Rule

With newspapers facing imminent extinction, some who should know better still don’t get it. One bloviator we would single out is Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, who made hundreds of millions of dollars building, then selling, the web-based greeting card company Blue Mountain. “When we [ask], Who killed the Rocky Mountain News? we’re all part of it, for better or worse, and, I argue, it’s mostly for the better,” Polis told a local gathering. An ultra left-wing Boulder Democrat, Polis evidently thinks the Web offers a more supportive environment than newspapers for the tide of progressivism: “We can’t just kill [the newspapers] and walk away,” he said. “It’s important for all of us to reach out to some of those…on the other side and present the progressive point of view.” God help us if Polis is a harbinger of Obamanation and the perfection of web-based politics. His words put one in mind of Paddy Chayefsky’s characterization of television as democracy at its ugliest. No argument on that one. But democracy could grow still uglier on the Web, which, to borrow from Chayefsky, is Globalization at its most superficial and hedonistic – a world willing and eager to be hijacked by Russian porn merchants, E! celebrity-worship, Viagra purveyors, and Nigerian spammers.

Shallow Coverage

Of course, news won’t die with the newspapers. But in the hands of the broadcasters there will be much less of it: Coverage will be superficial and shallow, and it will shade increasingly toward infotainment. Broadcasters will expand into the void left by newspapers, growing their revenues by podcasting and streaming news to mobile devices. But this will be a pale substitute for the news, particularly local, that we have always received on our doorstep. Unfortunately, no newspaper has figured out how to profit from giving away news online. There are revenues to be had, but they barely support the bandwidth costs, let alone the huge expense of maintaining the ability to gather and report the news.

Meanwhile, anyone who uses Google’s news page should be appalled at the extent to which a single purveyor of news, Reuters, has become the dominant supplier. It would appear that competitors are dying off fast, unable to match Reuters’ ubiquity.  Reporters are about to go the way of blacksmiths, and with them our eyes and ears on the world. Craig’s List (for Pete’s sake!) has supplanted the classified ads that once anchored newspaper profits. We fear the day when all news will come to us in sound bites.

Written by aurick

06/03/2009 at 2:53 pm

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