The news that the mighty New York Times is in deep financial trouble only accentuates what I believe will become a silent crisis in the next few years -- the lack of professionally researched, reliable news. When newspapers fold, where will you turn for in-depth information about happenings in your community? The TV? Radio? Don't make me laugh.
Local television has been long-ago compromised by its unwillingness to tell stories for which it has no video. Its dependence on the young and buxom means that many stations lack the grizzled veterans that have the contacts and history to ferret out a story. And radio? That ship sailed 30 years ago.
How about the Internet, you may ask? While the Internet provides a tsunami of information, there are few recognized sources of authority, so the reader is left trying to sort out the facts from the opinion and paranoia. This is not a slam against bloggers, but an acknowledgment that the financial model that Internet sites depend upon, advertising, puts too little money on the table to fund investigative journalism.
David Westphal posted an interesting viewpoint on the Knight Digital Media Center today exploring the possibility that local news sources, i.e. newspapers, might turn to charitable not-for-profits for grant money to fund the journalism that ad sales won't support. While an interesting concept, I have to believe this reflects a failure of the American public to understand the value of accurate news.
We've become so used to receiving regurgitated crap for free that we've lost sight of the fact that the source material often came from the door-knocking and sidewalk-pounding of professional reporters. If the NYT goes kaput, who will take on the stories that it has championed?
The answer cannot be built on foundation grants, but must come from the willingness of those people who need the truth to pay for the truth, rather than settle for a free, vaporous illusion of the truth. Freeloaders are bound to end up misinformed.
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