Devoid of Newspapers

I’m sure that everyone has read a few articles about the shrinking revenue and circulation of newspapers around the country (and the world I suspect). As an example, Real Clear Politics recently asked Is the Demise of Newspapers Preordained? The trends don’t look good, and up until now I have viewed the situation through the lens of "what do newspapers need to do to remain viable?" I don’t meant o suggest that the situation has grown more dire – in fact I don’t think it has changed in any significant way – but today I began to ask myself "what would happen if newspapers disappeared entirely?"

Perhaps part of the thought was a result of Scott’s post that lists control of information as one of the three ingredients to despotism. Of course the demise of newspapers does not mean that there would be no information, nor does it necessarily mean that there would be a central control over the information that is publicly available.

First let me lay out my two assumptions in approaching this question – newspaper companies go bankrupt, in other words this is not simply a case of only publishing online rather than in a phsical paper; other forms of mass communication (radio, tv, internet) do not disappear.

Most directly what I would expect under these assumptions is that journalism would disappear as a paid profession except in whatever form it might be able to survive in unwritten formats (radio and tv). Currently we live in an age where newspapers are not an exclusive source of original written journalism. We have seen cases where the newspapers (and other professional media) get scooped by amatures with blogs and areas of interest. I believe this gives us a glimpse into what a vaccume of printed news would be filled with.

Anyone (such as myself) can publish information in a way that is publicly accessible. Of course very few people know where to find what I write while millions of people know exactly where to find the things that are written by a columnist at the New York Times. Although amatures already publish many times more information (by word count) than journalism professionals there would bea  great shift if the vast majority of people received the majority of their information from the handfull of small-circulation sources to which they had been exposed. Also, there is a huge gap between the information that I am able to find, process, and write about while holding down a steady job and the information that can be found and published by someone who gets to spend their time in pursuit of new and important information.. If newspapers were consistently doing that job I would be distraught over the possibility of losing that service in society. As it is, I fear that we have already lost most of the value that newspapers could offer.

So my question is, what effects do other people see if the newspaper industry were to collapse? How would we cope? How obvious would the loss be in the public arena?

3 comments for “Devoid of Newspapers

  1. January 12, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I doubt the newspaper business will fail in one fell swoop. Rather, it will just peter out bit by bit over the years until the few papers that remain seem like archaic throwbacks to a bygone era. Maybe their offices and printing operations will become working museums where people can walk through and see what the newspaper business was like back in the day.

    Most people will likely not miss it much, except for when the old timers gather to exchange nostalgic stories about the good old days.

    I agree with you that much of what would be lost is already lost. The consolidation of national and regional news and the loss of in-depth treatment is already a done deal. It’s only going to get more and more like that.

    What I see is a paradigm shift from push to pull news. There will still be outlets for those that want to read the obituaries, but you will have to seek it out instead of having it show up on your doorstep. Those that are really interested will subscribe to have it emailed to them. In other words, I am saying that much of what newspapers now provide will be satisfactorily replaced by other options.

  2. January 12, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    I envisioned the same shift from push to pull news. One of the things I wonder about is how the other options that will replace newspapers will differ as far as quality, timeliness, accuracy, etc. I know they won’t all be equal (to each other or to newspapers past or present) but in aggregate how will they compare to the current offerings?

    Do you have any thoughts about that?

  3. January 13, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    I think you’ll have more targeted, customized offerings instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.

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