Over the past few years, I've heard TV pundits and bloggers constantly pronounce newspapers dead, then proceed to dance on the grave.
That's an opinion, and it's wrong, but it's their jobs to pound on the table with a shrill proclamation -- right or wrong. Calm, level-headed reporting is generally left to newspapers and local news outlets like radio stations or TV stations. Crazy opinions are for the pundits.
The flaw in their glee, of course, is they really don't have jobs without legitimate news reporters. If the New York Times, a local radio station or Fox News stops reporting well-researched stories, what will they comment on? Without legitimate news reporting, every day is a "slow news day."
This is a message that's not told nearly enough: when you pull salaried reporters out of our information delivery system, rumor and innuendo would quickly fill the void.
To illustrate the vital role news reporting plays in our society, consider these questions:
In a world without newspapers, who would attend and report on the goings-on at local meetings, like school boards, city councils and county boards? Instead of spending $1 per week on a newspaper, would citizens set aside 15-20 hours a week to attend these meetings in person?
Who would have the courage to step up and challenge those in power? The corrupt cop? The philandering mayor?
Who, except those with an agenda or an axe to grind, would deliver information to you?
Who would bear the cost of digging through court documents, attending community happenings, or profiling new businesses? Who would bear the cost of pushing that information out to you?
How would you know what's going on at the school? When that big winter storm is coming? When the big sale on school supplies starts? When your church bazaar is? How the food shelf is doing? What jobs are available locally? Where you can buy a new snowblower?
Who will apply ethics and professional standards to how information is disseminated? Would we devolve into a world of slander and rumor?
This, of course, doesn't just apply to newspapers, but all media that is local in nature, from radio stations to public access TV. Very few people stop to think what would happen if those businesses -- those institutions -- weren't around.
Luckily, our local institutions are strong and we don't have to worry about that. But it serves as a good reminder the crucial role information gathering and delivery plays in our society.
The next time a blogger or cable news personality cheers for the failure of local media, turn the computer or TV off, and realize the difference between opinions and information.