The Quickening Decline of Newspapers

The Quickening Decline of Newspapers



The flagging economy has accelerated the decline of the American newspaper industry. Already suffering from waning readership and declining ad sales, several major newspapers are now projected to fold or go exclusively on-line before the end of the year. Those papers include such stalwarts of the news business as the Miami Herald, the Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News.

If the fall of the newspaper business is inevitable, the question is: what does that mean for society?

The Internet allows for practically infinite discovery, but it invariably fractures us into subgroups of subgroups based around personal interests rather than the historical connections provided by physical community. Newspapers, on the other hand, promote those traditional connections, giving the community a common source of information and providing a base of commentary and knowledge not tied to any specific subgroup.

In a world with only the Internet, we’d all be looking at different content (radically different, at times). What does that do to our sense of unity and our ability to find common ground with our neighbors? Will we cease to be meaningfully connected through physical community and reorganize ourselves in communities based on specific interests? Am I not already more invested in the readers and writers of this blog than I am in the people living ten miles from me? And, what’s the consequence of that?

Nothing foreseeable is going to stop the decline of newspapers. In some ways, this is like the transition from horse-and-buggy to the automobile. At first, cars seemed like just a faster, more convenient version of something that already existed. But, eventually, cars transformed our society, restructuring communities and irrevocably changing how we relate to one another. The Internet is like that. It’s not just replacing newspapers, it’s changing the ways in which we connect, communicate and build relationships.

For me, there’s some angst over the idea of losing my daily paper. I hope there will always be a place for the printed word in our culture. But economic crises have a habit of making clear what is and isn’t essential to a culture. Newspapers seem headed for obsolescence. What that will mean in the long-term remains to be seen.

  • Snoop-Diggity-DANG-Dawg

    Frankly, I miss buggy whips.

  • Trescml

    I understand that newspapers are going through a long demise, but I think that it will be interesting to see how(if) some of the things that newspapers do transition to the web. One thing that concerns me is losing investigative reporting at the state and local level. Without the type of reporting it will be easier for local politicians to get away with whatever they want (and it is pretty easy now).

  • kranky kritter

    I share your angst because I’ve been a daily newspaper reader since I was old enough to digest the comics and the sports around age 7.My analysis is that it makes sense to view this in terms of 2 related yet possibly separate trends.

    One trend is the trend to electronic delivery format, the internet. Some folks find that aesthetically regrettable, and maybe it is, but it’s not alarming by itself.

    The other trend is that the failing business model that provides the revenue for professional journalism is leading to decreased resources for quality in-depth investigative reporting. That’s far more alarming to me.

    I am the first to criticize the many faults of modern media, especially the trivializing of news as the wall between news and entertainment gets destroyed, and also the inherent biases both in the process and in the minds of many of its practitioners.

    Nevertheless, the media still serves an important watchdog role, and at this point we have no way of knowing whether the new ways will provide the same level of watchdogging as we have all grown accustomed to. It’s too early to declare that the sky is falling. We may well see a rise of enterprise investigative journalism. But if we do, we must of course be prepared for a concurrent rise in industry-financed biased journalism.

    The traditional vie of journalism pays a lot of credence to the important role of journalists in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, and that alone explains whatever progressive bias the media may have.

    The real unanswered question for the future of journalism is whether the new ways will provide the same paying market for stories about things like the local hack working 10 hours a week at his 40 hr job, or the conflict of interest in that doctor collecting big fees to recommend drug x, and on and on and on and on. All the way down to routine coverage of the goings on of local govts, board meetings, and so on.

    What worries me is that the decline of financing for professional public-interest journalism will make it easier for powerful folks to get away with corrupt activities. So I hope that the new models find ways to make this kind of stuff keep happening. We will have to wait and see, but it seems to be nearly a given that future coverage will be less even, less comprehensive, and less in-depth.