Last Throes

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 2, 2005; 9:18 AM

Well, it pretty much seems to be conventional wisdom: Newspapers are old, slow, tired, out of touch, boring and obsolete, and any day now we'll be getting our news from blogs and podcasts and cell phones and we can kiss those ink-smudged relics goodbye.

Or something like that.

There's just one problem with this scenario: Newspapers provide the overwhelming amount of news in this country. Washington news, investigative news, state news, local news, business news, sports news, science news, you name it. Everyone else, from Web sites to TV to magazines, poaches off newspapers. Which could create a problem if their advertising base is swallowed up by online portals and there's no revenue to pay the battalions of editors, reporters and photographers who churn out the stuff that the rest of the world feels free to borrow, steal, disparage and argue about.

As regular readers know, I love blogs and spend a lot of bleary-eyed time searching a wide range of Web sites in assembling this column. But the savviest bloggers understand that they are free riders on a news train powered by daily papers. So for all their flaws--and I haven't been shy about pointing those out--they are extremely difficult to replace.

Yes, some bloggers are moving on up--Andrew Sullivan going to Time, Josh Marshall raising money to hire two D.C. investigative reporters--but it's still a relative drop in the news bucket.

All of which explains why the debate over the future of newspapers, on Romenesko and elsewhere, is worth checking in on.

Philadelphia Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky dares make fun of his fellow newspaper hacks:

"I'm slightly embarrassed by the bagpipe dirges played when American newspapers drop employees like autumn leaves. Some columnists practically bawled over the accelerating decline and decay of the American newspaper.

"How many tears rolled down columnists' cheeks when GM announced it would cut 30,000 jobs by 2008? Their self-pity showed that some journalists believe the planets orbit around them.

"Newspapers seem to be dying and that brings on the tears. When dinosaurs went extinct, who cried?

"No one. Unlike newspapers, dinosaurs couldn't write their own obituaries. Like dinosaurs, newspapers have massive bodies and brains the size of walnuts.

"They give away their product for free on the Internet, then run in circles squawking like chickens when circulation goes down like the Titanic.


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