For a couple hundred years in America and other democratic countries, newspapers were among the leading voices of their communities and now they are on the wane, because of a series of issues that range from the cost of newsprint to the loss of advertising revenue to Internet-based companies like Google and Craig's List and now, some would argue because of the advent of blogging citizen journalists.
I do not think this is a good thing. Newspapers have performed incredible services in keeping communities of varied geographies and/or interests informed. They have pointed out corruption in private and public sectors. They have shown us the horrors of manmade and natural disasters. But technology has been relentlessly devastating to their economic models. And the loss of revenue has led to a reduction of an estimated 100,000 editorial positions in the last five years or so.
I've had the opportunity to see several representatives of mainstream media and local newspapers speak in the last few weeks and they seem to me to be an embittered lot. I don't blame them. They seem to see bloggers as their enemies--after all, we don't check facts as thoroughly as most of them do. We don't (for the most part) meet payrolls, and we seem to have the good fortune (said with irony) of being at the scene when a great number of disasters take place, giving us heart-wrenching scoops that the more sensationalistic among the press must truly envy.
So what should newspapers do? Should they continue along their current route, which seems destined to result in most newspapers whithering and dying in the coming few years? I hope not and I believe instead of seeing blogs as an enemy, they should embrace citizen journalism in ways that currently have never been truly explored.
The idea has germinated ever since I heard David Weinberger speak at BlogOn. He complained that mainstream press see bloggers as stringers--part-time correspondents, invariably situated out in the field. In college I was a stringer for Time Magazine and AP, because I was a student and it was easy for me to cover student unrest in Boston in the 60s. I then became an editor in a Massachusetts suburban newspaper where we lived on stringers telling us what was happening in bedroom communities right down to the local garden clubs.
We "professionals" had the attitude that the stringers weren't as professional as we were--but they had a better pulse on their communities than we dis. In retrospect, both assumptions were pretty accurate.
So that's where my idea comes in. Metropolitan and suburban newspapers could augment their coverage with blogging citizen journalists, in every neighborhood, writing with one hand about every club, group and civic organization, while keeping their other hand on the pulse of the community in which they are a part. This would give a greater depth to community coverage than has previously existed online or off.
It also would be a perfect venue for local, and niche advertisers, not to mention national and globals. Imagine what Chevy could do with advertisements that were going to pages dedicated exclusively to soccer moms.
The world will not be a better place without newspapers. The First Amendment will not be more secure. Newspapers need to to adapt to the realities of the Information Age. If they continue heading down the road they are on, they are very likely to find a dead end.