Slate has an article – The Digital Slay-Ride – that discusses the ways modern technology is revolutionizing our lives. As Jack Shafer notes:
Folks giggled at Wired founder Louis Rossetto’s bombastic formulation in 1993 that the “digital revolution is whipping through our lives like a Bengali typhoon” and upsetting the old order. But Rossetto is getting the last laugh. Wherever digital zeros and ones can dislodge analog processes, they either have or are. Call it a digital slay-ride.
I think he is spot-on about how digital processes are changing our lives. But when it comes to identifying problems in the newspaper business, his analysis ignores other major issues besides technology – like greedy owners who are detached from the whole point of their business.
Shafer also seems rather cavalier about the fate of newspapers in general:
Before we get too weepy about lost journalistic jobs and folded publications, let’s ask how often reporters lamented the decline of other industries, products, and services swamped by Rossetto’s digital typhoon.
The thing is, newspapers are not just another industry. Since the very beginning of the US of A, they have been an integral part of our democracy. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote “I would rather live in a country with newspapers and without a government, than in a country with a government but without newspapers.” There might not have even been a United States of America if it wasn’t for newspapers’ ability to spread news about developments throughout the 13 disparate colonies.
The need for newspapers to keep citizens informed continues today. As Chris Hedges notes:
A democracy survives when its citizens have access to trustworthy and impartial sources of information, when it can discern lies from truth. Take this away and a democracy dies. The fusion of news and entertainment, the rise of a class of celebrity journalists on television who define reporting by their access to the famous and the powerful, the retreat by many readers into the ideological ghettos of the Internet and the ruthless drive by corporations to destroy the traditional news business are leaving us deaf, dumb and blind.
For any organization to survive and thrive there must be a healthy balance between the interests of individuals and the interests of the group. Too much individualism, and things fall apart; too much group-think and things become static and unable to respond to changes within and outside the organization.
The key ingredient for ensuring that healthy balance in any organization is the free flow of information that can accurately reflect the way things are. For the United States of America, that information has historically been provided by newspapers. If the decline of newspapers leads to a decline in the dispersion of accurate information about the way things are, the result will be a grave threat to our democracy.