Ed Driscoll

"Isn't The News Itself Still Valuable To Anyone?"

This Washington Post columnist pines for the Good Ole Days, as he mournfully writes, “Does the News Matter To Anyone Anymore?”

Isn’t the news itself still valuable to anyone? In any format, through any medium — isn’t an understanding of the events of the day still a salable commodity? Or were we kidding ourselves? Was a newspaper a viable entity only so long as it had classifieds, comics and the latest sports scores?

It’s hard to say that, even harder to think it. By that premise, what all of us pretended to regard as a viable commodity — indeed, as the source of all that was purposeful and heroic — was, in fact, an intellectual vanity.

Newsprint itself is an anachronism. But was there a moment before the deluge of the Internet when news organizations might have better protected themselves and their product? When they might have — as one, industry-wide — declared that their online advertising would be profitable, that their Web sites would, in fact, charge for providing a rare and worthy service?

And which, exactly, is the proper epitaph for the generation that entered newspapering at the very moment when the big-city dailies — the fat morning papers, those that survived the shakeout of afternoon tabloids and other weak sisters — seemed impervious, essential and ascendant? Were we the last craftsmen prepared for a horse-and-buggy world soon to prostrate itself before the god of internal combustion? Or were we assembly-line victims of the inert monopolists of early 1970s Detroit, who thought that Pacers and Gremlins and Chevy Vegas were response enough to Japanese and European automaking superiority?

Yes, to the last rhetorical question, of course.

The news matters to many people–but unlike the 1920s through the 1970s, the Washington Post and the New York Times alone aren’t the news anymore. They’re merely two aggregators of news, with a particular tone that appeals to establishment liberal sorts of readers. The angrier far left have the Daily Kos and other Netroots sites, and conservatives and libertarians, long badly served by the Post have Instapundit, Drudge, NRO, Townhall, Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs, Pajamas, etc. (And sports junkies have sites devoted exclusively to their interests, and the elderly still have television news, of course.)

For the most part, like the Post, all of these sites are packaging up AP, Reuters and UPI feeds, but like the Post, each group repackages that info with a tone and a slant that appeals to their particular demographic. The period in time that one big city newspaper was the source of news will be proven by history to have been a fairly brief one, roughly from the 1920s to about the early 1980s, when the first cable television news networks, and the first online news sources (such as CompuServe and The Source) arrived.

These days, to compete against an endlessly growing Long Tail of information, newspapers must be much leaner to survive than their monopoly period, as Alan D. Mutter writes:

The deteriorating economics of the industry were underscored for the third day in a row this week when publisher Brian Tierney told union representatives of the two Philadelphia dailies that their company will face