The Death of Newspapers (a serial)

More

Walter Pincus, a veteran newspaper guy (and therefore in my book eligible for beatification) has a long essay about how the many failings of these tragic beasts are leading them to extinction. He cites indifference to readers, excessive prize-seeking, government spin doctors, corporate ownership etc. If only they had foreseen the subprime crisis!

Unfortunately, the essay suffers from the self-importance it ascribes to its subject. The real problem is simply that readers and advertisers for various reasons prefer to use the Internet, which is showing no signs of being able to support the elaborate news-gathering operations once underwritten by print ads for women's clothing and used cars.

The truth is that it hardly matters what you put in newspapers these days, and their owners have cottoned to this fact. Good newspapers are losing readers and advertisers just as fast as bad ones, if not faster. I could easily argue that Pincus has it exactly backwards; the problem isn't that newspapers aren't good enough, it's that they aren't bad enough to thrive in a culture that won't pay for quality and finds voyeurism much more compelling than solid news and analysis.

But I don't really believe this. People are reading plenty, and they want news. They just intend to get it online, and we'll all have to adjust to this. As to who will pay for someone to cover City Hall, dig into corruption and in general find things out (as opposed to just pontificating on the Internet), that's what they used to call the $64,000 question, in the days when $64,000 was a lot of money. And everybody read the newspapers.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Daniel Akst

Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather. More

Dan Akst is a journalist, novelist and essayist whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wilson Quarterly, and many other publications.
Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In