Thursday, October 1, 2009

Should we just kill all newspapers and be done with it?

Funny how these things work out. Yesterday I was talking with a class of freshmen journalism students about the need to get input from all points of view to have an informed opinion or even a sense of what is happening. Today, Newsweek runs a vitriolic column from one of the smug new media types, in this case Daniel Lyons, about how newspapers should be gone and the sooner we get rid of them the better. It makes my point exactly.

Most of it is composed of misguided history, mistaken assumptions and the certainty that he is right and the millions of people who still read paper newspapers are just too dumb to get it. But there is a lot of truth in much of his column. Yes, newspaper companies have been arrogant and smug (it takes one to know one, I say to Lyons, and, yes, I am smug as well on lots of things, but this is an area I wouldn't claim to be the end-all, be-all). Yes, they didn't adapt quickly enough. Yes, they lived for years with a monopoly just printing money. But, yes, they serve some functions besides just delivering news, and many of these functions aren't being covered by new media (or broadcast).

For example, Lyons points to the reporting by Politico, Gawker, the Huffington Post and the Daily Beast as evidence that newspapers aren't needed. Would any of them be as good without the reporting of the New York Times, Washington Post and their ilk? I asked a friend who contributes to the Huffington Post. He says he couldn't do what he does without the newspapers. And I don't really remember any of them reporting on the Milwaukee Common Council recently.

The bottom line is that, yes, I need to read alternative viewpoints. And I do. But I also need far more real information -- facts, for example -- than I am getting from the online-only sites or broadcast. Perhaps Lyons is correct that if we just get those dinosaur print newspapers out of the way that, somehow, all the new media sites will become so profitable that they'll pour the money into reporting that is currently being spent by newspapers. And, somehow, advertisers will actually start making enough money from their Internet advertising that they'll spend enough advertising to start paying for actual paid reporting. But neither of those things is happening now, nor is it likely they will happen in the near future.

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