Global Information Killed the Local Newspaper Star

James Surowiecki has a nice and short article in this month's New Yorker on the death of newspapers. For those who remember Danny Devito in Other People's Money, its pretty much the buggy whip argument (movie is down below, skip ahead to 2:30)--but a bit more complicated. It is not a simple matter of an industry becoming outdated, but of an industry not recognizing the most vital aspect of its operation. Newspapers shouldn't conceptualize themselves as being in the print business, rather, they are in the information business. Had they realized this 15 years ago, they could have done more to network and prevent things like CraigList, Monster, etc. from taking over a large part of their business--communicating vital information and networking strangers.

I do find a particular irony in Surowiecki's article: so often we think of the internet as promoting local relations. By putting media back into the hands of the people (to channel some Gillmor), the internet provides more and more local broadcasting. It creates voices outside of the major media centers. But, as Surowiecki explains, it is also killing the local newspaper--since so much information is out there for free.

I wonder where people will read obituaries once the local paper has died.

There is another disturbing suggestion in Surowiecki's argument--the return of patronage. Perhaps patronage of the newspaper is no different than that of PBS, but the thought of news media outlets relying on the generosity of the wealthy scares me. I don't want the news to be purchased. Fox news is bad enough. Let's not return to a medieval system where every party has their own scribe competing to present the truth. Oh, wait... I think we already have that... But let's at least attempt to maintain an air of objectivity that allows me to think the system is working...

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