Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that given a choice between a society with no newspapers and a society with no government, he would choose the latter. Well, Tom’s heirs might be facing the former problem, and soon.
The news about newspapers just keeps getting worse. Since the subject was last broached on this page just two months ago, the Rocky Mountain News in Denver has closed and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has ceased print publication (both were second papers in two-paper towns). Detroit’s papers, the Free Press and the News, have cut home delivery back to three print editions per week, and the owner of the San Francisco Chronicle is threatening to shut his paper down entirely. By the end of this year, there could be at least one important American city without a single daily newspaper.
One quick and easy response to the death of the newspaper is, “So what?” After all, there’s a seemingly infinite array of news readily available, for free, on the Internet. But people who depend for news on Yahoo or Google, or even The Huffington Post, need to stop and think. Where do the links on those sites lead you? Usually to the Web site of a daily newspaper. Where did bloggers first see the stories upon which they pass the day ruminating? In a daily newspaper—or at least on a daily newspaper’s Web site.
Daily newspapers still employ almost all the people who are, at least occasionally, doing the independent “truth-to-power” journalism that is essential to a free society. And they can’t just “move to the Web.” The Post-Intelligencer, for instance, is continuing as a Web site with a staff of 20 journalists. The old print edition had a news staff of 165.