I touched a nerve last week when I quoted this piece of conventional wisdom and answered with a dismissive "whatever."
To produce news, you need professionals who understand the standards needed to research, report and write on what happened. If newspapers die, reliable information dries up.
From the tone of the comments and the concern expressed by friends who called, I've realized that this is a real concern.
There are a lot of people who believe that traditional reporters are the initial source of news while the "new" media simply repackage it. I can see how folks get that impression, but it's not accurate. So let me tell you how the news actually works now and how I think it will work in the future.
The first principle that we must remember is that even at peak of daily newspaper readership, we all segmented our news. Some people subscribed just for the sports page, business, politics, lifestyle or even just for the weather. My sister in law subscribed to the Republic for the Soduku puzzle; my dad gets the Citizen for the golf coupons. Very few people are interested in all the sections.
Now when we segment our news, we are able to get a lot of it from the original sources. Some of this is obvious. You don't need a reporter to give you the weather, movie times or financial statistics. But some of it is not so obvious. There is a tremendous amount of news that comes straight from the sources and we customize that news into our own baskets.
In order to show how it works, let me show you my news basket. My basket is customized to my needs and it provides me a tremendous amount of information that was never available from traditional newspapers. You may not like my basket and it certainly won't meet your needs, but that's because I've tailored it to meet my needs. When the reporters are gone, you will build your own basket.
Here's what my news basket looks like:
As recently as 15 years ago, if you wanted to know what, say, the Avondale City Council was doing, you needed to either go down and to city hall and get an agenda, or try to find coverage in your local paper. The Republic would try to meet this need by providing a zone section and the little independent papers--like the Arcadia News for example--would fill in the gaps with detailed coverage.
Now however, you can sign up to get all the agenda information directly from the source. I follow the Corporation Commission, CAWCD, DEQ and DWR very closely, so I'm on all of their direct distribution lists. That means that when the ACC calls a Special Open Meeting, DWR puts out its Legislative Agenda , or DEQ expresses concern about its budget, I know about it immediately. I'm on dozens of these lists.
The automated announcements are efficient, but sometimes they lack context. That's why I signed up for the press release distribution lists for the agencies and events that I follow. So when Governor Brewer announces her appointment to the Department of Weights Measures, or Maricopa County announces the results of the latest RAND study on Meth use, I get copies as soon as the Republic reporters do. The mainstream papers will then dutifully follow up, and here.
Some issues that I care about aren't on my immediate radar, so I rely on interested parties who each have their own agendas and want to get their message out. Brenda at Children's Action Alliance has an important perspective, as does Diane from Arizona PIRG, as well as Glenn Hamer from the AZ Chamber plus Tom Jenny from AFP as well as Steve Voeller. I'm also signed up for updates from the Republican side of our Congressional delegation plus a handful of other organizations that provide original content. Sure, all of them have a perspective, but so do the papers. I think I'm much better off without the journalistic gatekeeper to tell me what's important.
Notice that all of those sources are passive? They are automatically emailed to me and none of them involve traditional reporters.
In addition to relying on accumulators, I serve as an accumulator. One of the commenter's complained that I don't write any original news, I simply comment on items in the papers. That's because most of my original content is too specialized to put into Espresso Pundit, but here is an example of news coverage that I supply to clients.
My National Basket
Obviously I need a source for national news as well, and as you might imagine, my national basket leans towards politics, economics and law. For pure economic news, I rely on Marginal Revolution; for law, I read the Volokh Conspiracy and for an interesting perspective on national politics, I read Powerline. Of course, these sites often comment on mainstream sources, but they also use original material from government economic data or court cases.
The most important part of anyone's national news basket is a good general accumulator. I get most of my general news from Instapundit. Glenn Reynolds is a law professor who scours thousands of sources and provides a quick summary and link to scores of interesting articles each day. Some of them are from Mainstream sources, but most of the articles are from non-mainstream sources.
To be sure, some of my news comes from mainstream sources. I subscribe to the Republic, Capitol Times and Wall Street Journal and I follow Sonoran Alliance, R Cubed and Political Arizona which often (like espresso pundit) refer to mainstream media stories. The Drudge Report is a great accumulator site, but almost all of his sources are from the Mainstream.
So what happens when the newspapers go away? They will be replaced by thousands of original sources who will distribute raw content as well as the spinners, monitors and accumulators who work to provide context to that content.
The readers will customize their own baskets by signing up for content that will be sent directly to them, and frankly, they will be much better off. I'm much better informed than I was even a few years ago.
With source documents being automatically emailed to me, a large network of self interested accumulators keeping me informed about issues, not to mention programs like Google Alerts that scour the web for key words that I've requested, I have no need for someone at a mainstream newspaper to screen information for me.
Who will write the news when the newspapers are gone? You will. I will. Glenn Hamer, Tom Jenny, Brenda, Diane and Steve Voeller will. So will Jeff Flake, Harry Mitchell, Laura Devany, Shane Wikfors, David Schweikert and Kyrsten Sinema.
We will all be reading the news as well...in real time, from original sources. We won't have Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, Kevin Willey or John Zidich deciding what we should read or how we should think.
We've overcome that, and we are much better off.