Newspapers are blaming the Web for their demise. Only partly true.
When movie newsreels started in 1915, newspapers were supposed to die. They didn't. When radio came of age in 1935, newspapers were supposed to die. Nope. And when TV news developed in 1955, newspapers were supposed to die. They didn't.
Each of those technical jumps "should" have replaced newspapers, but papers found new ways to serve their public.
So the current problem is not the new technology, but a total lack of imagination and service on the part of the papers.
Some commentators say that serious reporting will disappear when papers are gone. Nonsense. It's already
gone from the papers. Here in Spokane, I check the websites of local TV stations and the newspaper each day. The TV stations do a much better job on the daily basics like murders, car accidents, power outages and traffic blockages. I rarely see anything on the paper's website that strikes me as important.
Well, how about the traditional "crusading journalist", supposedly an exclusive property of papers? Exposing corrupt city officials, letting the chips fall where they may.... Neither the paper nor the TV stations will touch those stories, and in fact the Spokesman-Review is owned by the same family who owns the city government. Brave reporting comes only from small "alternative weeklies", which will continue to exist because they serve a select and loyal audience. A good recent example is the exposure
of Portland's gayor enjoying his youngboy intern.
There is precisely one exception to this rule: Dorothy Rabinowitz at the Wall Street Journal. She has covered stories that nobody else would touch, told the truth that nobody else would speak. All other reporters at major papers are gutless Leninist scribes.
Same with classified ads, a major source of revenue. Papers enthusiastically enforce Communist "equal-opportunity" censorship of classified ads. You can't advertise for a female secretary, you can't describe a house's neighborhood. The free ads-only papers (Shopper's Edge, Nickel Nik, etc) and the web ad services like Craigslist don't enforce these rules. If you want to write a useful and specific ad, you're not going to run it through the Communist censors at the newspapers when you have a better option.
In short, papers are not dying because their function has been duplicated
by the Web; papers are dying because they stopped
performing their function.
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Can I imagine a newspaper-like service that I would pay for? Yes, but it would probably be more like a radio program, perhaps like the pre-Rush form of talk radio. Arthur Godfrey's early work
gives the flavor if not necessarily the content of such a service. It would be a mix of local news, local advertising, and a warm invitation to community.