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Seth Godin recently published a post on a topic that has been examined ad nauseum — the seemingly inevitable (but certainly prolonged) death of newspapers. Yet, as usual, he has a perspective that resonates more clearly than some others, and he misses on major point.

Seth believes that the functions of a newspaper that aren’t already redundant or dead (sports, weather, classifieds, movie reviews, television listings, comics) are local and investigative journalism. He estimates that these functions account for 2% of the cost of a newspaper.

His belief is that these will somehow survive as a function, but funded differently:

Punchline: if we really care about the investigation and the analysis, we’ll pay for it one way or another. Maybe it’s a public good, a non profit function. Maybe a philanthropist puts up money for prizes. Maybe the Woodward and Bernstein of 2017 make so much money from breaking a story that it leads to a whole new generation of journalists.

What I think Seth has missed is that these functions are already redundant, too, through blogs and Twitter and Facebook and email and cell phones and digital cameras. Already, local news becomes national and international and vice-versa, nearly instantaneously. From amazing water landings of  airplanes (and the resume of the pilot) to recordings of meetings to videos of exorcisms to actual receipts, minutes, and documents, all digitally available, citizen journalists and professional (and semi-pro) journalists are doing plenty.

Investigative journalism is thriving because of blogs, with first-hand accounts of meetings, niche investigations, and expert insights emerging right and left.

Is it any wonder that all the journalists covering the Inauguration seem to be at the Newseum?

So, if I were a newspaper owner, I’d be planning for the inevitable.

There’s really nothing left.

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Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson

Kent Anderson is the CEO of RedLink and RedLink Network, a past-President of SSP, and the founder of the Scholarly Kitchen. He has worked as Publisher at AAAS/Science, CEO/Publisher of JBJS, Inc., a publishing executive at the Massachusetts Medical Society, Publishing Director of the New England Journal of Medicine, and Director of Medical Journals at the American Academy of Pediatrics. Opinions on social media or blogs are his own.


5 Thoughts on "When Newspapers Are Gone"

You are right that there is a role for citizen journalism in a post-newspaper world, although you forget the most important function of the Fourth Estate, which is a check on the seemingly unlimited power of government and corporations.

Yes, there is no reason why investigative journalism may not become a great participatory sport. Amateur journalists, however, have little ability to protect themselves when the story they wish to expose upsets those more powerful than them.

Large newspapers, like the New York Times, have at least some ability to protect themselves (and their staff) when attacked on the legal front (e.g. the Valerie Plame affair)

There is no way that an amateur journalist/blogger would be able to defend him/herself against groups like this. The only route would be to close shop.

I can imagine an Utopian world of participatory citizen journalism. I can also imagine a dystopian world where most significant news is written by the government, corporations, and recently laid off journalists-for-hire.

The outgoing administration gave us a foreshadowing of the latter, and frankly, I don’t like it.

These are all good points, but let’s not forget that the large institutions have had columnists paid for by political entities, lying reporters (exposed by citizen journalists, in some cases), and outrageous conflicts of interest (Fox News, anybody?). Also, a high percentage of mainstream news does already consist of press releases from political parties and corporations. Reporters can be lazy or ambitious, honest or deceitful. Working at the New York Times doesn’t guarantee ambitious honesty.

Bloggers tend to be motivated, so they’re ambitious. They can be busted quite openly through direct links to their offending story.

I think free speech protects itself — that is, if someone’s starting to push you around, you point it out, present evidence, etc.

I still think newspapers have little left to stand upon. Even institutional journalism, abstracted from that particular medium, has some vulnerability as transparency, immediacy, access, domain expertise, and talent stream into the blogosphere.

But, I’ve been wrong before . . .

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