Death of a Newspaper

Eric Alterman has a great essay in The New Yorker. I’ve been meaning to blog about it for a week or more, but…. I just haven’t. Instead, I’m going to link and excerpt:

In a recent episode of “The Simpsons,” a cartoon version of Dan Rather introduced a debate panel featuring “Ron Lehar, a print journalist from the Washington Post.” This inspired Bart’s nemesis Nelson to shout, “Haw haw! Your medium is dying!”

“Nelson!” Principal Skinner admonished the boy.

“But it is!” was the young man’s reply.

Nelson is right. Newspapers are dying; the evidence of diminishment in economic vitality, editorial quality, depth, personnel, and the over-all number of papers is everywhere. What this portends for the future is complicated. Three years ago, Rupert Murdoch warned newspaper editors, “Many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent . . . quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.” Today, almost all serious newspapers are scrambling to adapt themselves to the technological and community-building opportunities offered by digital news delivery…

Finally, we need to consider what will become of those people, both at home and abroad, who depend on such journalistic enterprises to keep them safe from various forms of torture, oppression, and injustice. “People do awful things to each other,” the veteran war photographer George Guthrie says in “Night and Day,” Tom Stoppard’s 1978 play about foreign correspondents. “But it’s worse in places where everybody is kept in the dark.” Ever since James Franklin’s New England Courant started coming off the presses, the daily newspaper, more than any other medium, has provided the information that the nation needed if it was to be kept out of “the dark.” Just how an Internet-based news culture can spread the kind of “light” that is necessary to prevent terrible things, without the armies of reporters and photographers that newspapers have traditionally employed, is a question that even the most ardent democrat in John Dewey’s tradition may not wish to see answered.

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