I recently noted that despite their multitudinous faults, blind spots and occasional arrogance, newspapers are too important to fail.
I make no brief for the dead-tree paper model here; while I enjoy a tangible paper over coffee in the morning, I wouldn’t care if all the papers migrated to the Web as long as they retained enough good reporters and resources to bring us occasional insights into the complex world around us, especially overseas. You think Americans are insular and uninformed now about places like Pakistan, North Korea and Somalia? Bring the reporters home and see what happens. That’s why I grind my teeth and blink in amazement when I read this:
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press recently found that fewer than half of Americans — 43 percent — say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community “a lot.” Only 33 percent say they would miss the local paper if it were no longer available.
I find that last figure inexplicable, even though I know a couple of neighbors on my block who dropped the paper this year. One did it for economic reasons. He loves reading the Dallas Morning News for free online, but–duh–this ignores the fact that if the Big Dailies close, there won’t be free online editions with anything like the breadth and depth offered now.
Needless to say, not everyone agrees with me. The esteemed Mike Kinsley says let ’em die, baby. While Kinsley makes a few good points, I think he’s overly optimistic in believing that somehow, bloggers and “citizen journalists” will take up the slack from the Big Dailies and maybe even do a better job.
I disagree, having been around the news business long enough to know that some of the best reporting, especially in long-form investigative work, will never be replaced by a bunch of bloggers working either for free or for some pittance per story.
(By the way, the same is true of magazine journalism, not just newspapers. Some of the greatest jewels in the pantheon of mag work, like Gay Talese’s famous Esquire piece, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” took months to report and write. No part-time blogger footing his own bills is going to stay with a story that long.)
Then, for another view more congenial to my own, have a look at Conor Clarke’s piece in The Atlantic. I share his view that newsgathering is a public good that cannot always be left to the tender mercies of the open marketplace.