Slate’s Jack Shafer asks the question “Does democracy really need newspapers?”
Even though I’m a newspaper columnist, former newspaper reporter and editor, and lifelong news junkie, I agree with Shafer: No.
To begin with, political parties, special interests, and government itself all have a stake in the maintenance of elections and democracy. If the Washington Post didn’t endorse a presidential nominee or the New York Times failed to assemble exhaustive biographies of the candidates, I’m sure the voters would find their way to most of the relevant information. Until the current newspaper crisis, you rarely heard politicians or activists bleating about how important newspapers were to self-government. They mostly bitched about what awful failures newspapers were at uncovering vital data. The only group that holds a consistently high opinion of newspapers is newspaper people. They’re the ones who do the bragging about how newspapers enrich democracy by uncovering pollution, malfeasance in office, abuses of power, and unsafe consumer goods.
What democracy needs is journalism and a forum for the exchange of ideas about public policy. Delivering that product via ink placed on paper is the format that newspapers use; with the evolution of the Internet, that means of delivering journalism and the forum of ideas is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
So, while I enjoy opening and reading a newspaper as much as the next guy, I know that like telegraphs and horse-drawn carriages, newspapers are rapidly being replaced by better technology. That’s life.