Forfeiting the Fourth Estate

By one estimate, a third of all US newspapers could be bankrupt by the summer. Last November, a study presented to US newspaper executives found that only one major publishing company, EW Scripps, was on a sound financial footing. And since November, the economic crisis has only deepened. But, one might ask, if a swathe of papers just vanishes – so what? After all, there’s always the internet and local television to provide the news. In the huge but fragmented media market of the US, however, it’s not so simple. Those romantic titles may be a throwback to a happier past, but their message is as relevant as it ever was.

Local newspapers are still the main source of news about the towns and cities where they are published. If anyone’s keeping them honest at City Hall or in the governor’s office, it’s the local papers, with their man covering the mayor’s office and their staffer on the police beat, doing the reporting on which everyone else feeds. Without them, entire cities might vanish off the national news radar screen.

— Rupert Cornwell in The Independent

I certainly hope newspapers just don’t vanish from the landscape, but I’m also not at all convinced that newspaper-style journalism would go extinct if papers fold.