I don't think the average person out there realizes what's about to happen with the demise of newspapers. Whatever you think of their relevance to your world, they do the heavy lifting when it comes to covering both routine and important local news. Newspapers, and not blogs or TV or radio, are consistently and methodically covering and holding accountable local governments, businesses, and institutions. Sure, they miss stuff and don't always live up to our expectations, but they're reliable.
At the national level, the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post are certain to survive because of the massive scale of their online readerships. And I think a growing, reinvigorated micro-local press will fare well in coming years (at the expense of town and community printed weeklies). But mid-range news outlets will struggle and even fail. Even big-market local papers are not going to weather well a double whammy of technological disruption and economic downturn.
What does this mean? It means fewer investigative stories of vital public interest, less scrutiny of big institutions, and the loss of experienced journalists — the ones with the institutional memory that is crucial to keeping events in perspective — because they cost the most to keep on staff.
I just linked to a couple of Seattle Times pages in that last paragraph because it is a essential regional newspaper in real danger of failure. Oh, the brand will probably survive a seemingly inevitable acquisition by joint-operation partner Hearst, but the Times' heritage of fuck-you fearlessness likely will not.
As I look for a new job, I can't help but also look for a way forward for journalism. I'm not really qualified to do anything else, so obviously it would be advantageous for me to ensure the profession thrives. In coming weeks, I plan to post here a rolling assessment of where the news business is, whether it should even be a business, and where it should go next. There already are a lot of really smart people tackling this problem, but I'm pretty smart myself, and massively parallel thinking is how stuff gets invented.