I am, by all accounts, a news junkie. I take two papers every day and three on Sundays. I subscribe to a number of magazines and any number of news feeds. My startup page on the Internet is “Google News.” I have the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist as my favorites. I watch CNN, MSNBC, and CNBC on a regular basis. Earlier in my life, I contemplated moving to a college town with a good library for my retirement. Not anymore; I have the world’s greatest library at my fingertips and better yet the world’s greatest library index system: Google.
Today, I can scan the news of the world, watch videos of recent or ancient events, and see interviews with all manner of famous and infamous people. But, I fear, I am about to lose most of my most trusted sources: professional, paid journalists. Each day now, some eminent newspaper lays off a significant portion of its staff or closes down completely. The Internet and the most serious economic downturn of the last 80 years are killing off newspapers, and therefore journalism. Of these two maladies, the Internet is by far the most important — and the most fatal.
My prognosis is that with more and more journalists unemployed, the quality of our news, both current and especially investigative, will deteriorate dramatically. Local news will be all but nonexistent, or worse, simply rumor. The root problem is that Internet news (which is something of an oxymoron) has disconnected the traditional connection between journalism and advertising. Now, perhaps, some genius will reconnect the people who are willing to pay for advertising and the news that attracts people in the first place, but I’m pretty sure it won’t happen in time to preserve the culture of truly professional journalism that exists at the world’s preeminent newspapers and magazines.
My personal prediction is that over the next decade, perhaps the next couple of decades, journalism will deteriorate rapidly; worse, young people won’t go into journalism, or they will become self-absorbed, self-made bloggers thinking that they are following in the tradition of the great Pulitzer Prize winners of the past.
Can this disastrous state of events be avoided? I seriously doubt it. The journalist world is already spinning out of control. We will soon lose the most experienced journalists through a combination of downsizing and age, and we will not be able to repair the situation in time to preserve the knowledge culture in which journalists have been educated for the last eighty or 100 years. No one will have the money to invest in serious reporting on war or finance or science or any of those things that mean the most to an intelligent, well-informed society.
Even if we could prevail upon those who are profiting the most in this new age (e.g., Google) to subsidize journalism from their nearly infinite profits, there is no way that I can I can imagine how we would distribute the money. But someone will have to figure out some way — someone will have to figure out who pays for free. The Internet news aggregators are like the far-too-successful parasite that kills the host before the host can breed, and then moves on. The future is not bright.