25 February 2009

Are newspapers necessary?

Slacktivist analyzes Walter Isaacson's plan to save the newspaper business and finds it wanting. Fred thinks the newspapers can only survive by lowering profit expectations and taking a more populist posture.
Simple question: Who was more popular -- Robin Hood or the Sheriff of Nottingham? The answer to that question explains a great deal about why newspapers are dying and why not many people will cry at their funerals.
Neither of these things is likely to happen, of course, so the daily paper as we know it is going to ride off into the sunset. Can we survive it? The common wisdom says that we need the real, boots-on-the-ground reporting that typically only newspapers provide, and I certainly agree that leaving the job of serious newsgathering in the hands of the Big Three cable newsers would be a national catastrophe.

But journalism seems to me to be a pretty irrepressible profession. As long as there are people who want to know what powerful interests are doing, there will be a market for journalists. Serious People will no doubt bemoan the splintering of news into a battle of partisan bomb-throwers, but, lest we forget, newspapers got their start as rival pamphleteers. Besides, that paradigm hardly sounds worse than the current stale MO of massaging the news to not offend its powerful patrons.