Recent circulation numbers showing continued, substantial declines of traditional newspapers give me an excuse to make a point I have wanted to make for some time.
I am a frequent critic of newspapers. I think they have lost focus on the hard-hitting investigative journalism which used to be their highest and best calling, instead considering reiteration of an activist's press release sufficient to check the journalism box on some particular issue. When investigative reporting does occur, it almost always is focused to support the dominant or politically correct outcome, rather than to really challenge conventional wisdom. Media coverage of any technical issue involving science or statistics or economics is often awful, in large part because journalism is too often the default educational path of folks who want to avoid numbers. Any time I have been on the inside of some issue receiving coverage, I have generally been astounded by how little the print descriptions matched reality. Now that I am interviewed more as a source for articles, I never think my views are well-quoted (though that may be my fault for not talking in sound bites). And, like many, I get irritated that the media's arrogance and self-referential reporting seems to increase in direct proportion to their drop in circulation.
All that being said, the world without healthy newspapers is a bad thing.
First, we bloggers can blather on all day about being the new media, but with the exception of a few folks like Radley Balko, we're all editorial writers, not reporters (I consider my role at Climate-Skeptic.com to be more like journalism, but only because there is such a glaring hole on that topic in traditional media). I couldn't do what I do here, at least on this particular blog, without the New York Times and the Washington Post. I'm a remora feeding on their scraps. I can't bring down the big fish by myself, I can only feed on the bits they miss.
Second, and perhaps more important in this world of proposed reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, print media is the mode of speech best protected by the First Ammendment. This isn't the way it should be -- all speech should be equal -- but in reality goofy regulatory regimes for radio, TV, and even the Internet all offer the government leverage points for speech control they don't have with the print media. It's why half the dystopic sci fi novels out there have a world dominated by TV -- because that is where government has the most control of speech.
So here's hoping you guys at the NY Times get your act together.