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Are There Good Alternatives To Local Papers?

- May 5, 2009

In response to my post on the declining number of newspapers reporters who cover state capitols, commenter Joel writes:

bq. …we might look to other news sources to pick up the slack, before we throw in the towel on the 4th estate and its role in a democracy.

bq. Specifically, I am talking about blogs…For instance, there is a growing little community of capitol-based bloggers here in Austin, and I see no reason to think they can’t serve/aren’t serving the same role as was previously served by the reporter on the capitol beat from the Bryan/College Station Eagle. Or whatever.

Three quick thoughts in response:

1) Bloggers do useful reporting. That said, what’s the business model that sustains them? Granted, the business model of most newspapers isn’t looking so good these days, but I’m not sure what the alternative is. See this piece by David Carr, who notes the prospect of bloggers’ shilling for corporations to sustain their work. I doubt that’s a desirable model for those who do political reporting.

2) Another concern about substituting some on-line content generally for newspapers is this. Anthony Downs distinguished between information acquired accidentally and information that was sought-for. By subscribing to a newspapers, I get a lot of “accidental” information — stories in the newspaper that I wouldn’t otherwise read, which I do read simply because I’m sitting on the couch turning the pages of the paper. If I were to surf the NY Times webpage, I’d be less likely to read them. It’s true that reading content on-line does provide a sort of accidental information, but, for me at least, I tend to end up looking at old Van Halen videos that my cousin posted on Facebook:

3) Are bloggers well-situated to have the impact on political elites that the media can? At this moment, it still seems that the impact of bloggers is most notable when their efforts lead to wider coverage in the mainstream media. I worry that political elites, still stuck in the view that bloggers live in their parents’ basement, will just ignore them — until the local newspaper picks up the story. And then we’re back to why the decline of newspapers is important.

Of course, Diamond Dave was the real purpose of this post.

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