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Newspapers: Do we need them?

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Mar• 20•09

Denver’s Rocky Mountain News: closed.  Seattle’s Post Intelligencer: closed.  San Diego’s Union Tribune: sold to a private equity firm.  The demise of the newspaper has been reported across different media.  The question is, do we really need newspapers or can the internet do just as good a job?  Below, I look at all the sections of the newspaper and see if their content is still relevant in the Internet Age.

  • World News: World news is important, but one would think that there are economies of scales in world reporting.  Most newspapers in small and medium sized markets get their world news content from the Associated Press or Reuters.  As long as these two organizations continue to be strong, one would guess that the quality of world news would not suffer.  Further, the internet allows individuals to read and view different electronic media from around the world.
  • National News: Similar to world news, only the most prestigious newspapers are really contributing any new news stories beyond editorials.
  • Editorials: With so many blogs, the Internet does not lack opinionated men and women.  On the Internet, readers have a much wider variety of choice of who’s opinions they seek out to read than would be the case in a local newspaper.
  • Local news/Investigative Journalism:  This is where newspapers have a competitive advantage and where they will be sorely missed.  David Simon writes in the Washington Post about how newspapers’ disappearance will leave no one to police public officials and the police.  Conducting a high quality investigative report is a full time job.  Someone who blogs from their home an hour a day will not be able to uncover corrupt police practices or the behind-closed-doors dealings of politicians.  Who will fill this void?  This is a question that still needs to be answered.
  • Business: Again, local business stories are an important service that newspapers provide.  Social networking sites such as LinkedIn help people connect, but how do you know about the news of the biggest employers in your local area?  Maybe there are blogs about this, but I would guess that many of the blogs are devoted to single firms or sectors.  On the other hand, if you are looking for the opinion of famous economists, now is a great time to be alive.  Famous economists Greg Mankiew, James Hamilton, Tyler Cowen, enlighted readers daily with their words of wisdom
  • Stock quotes.  Yahoo!, Finance, Morningstar, and Bloomberg all have up to the second stock and mutual fund quotes from all over the world.  
  • Health.  Who needs a health section of the newspaper when you’ve gotten Healthcare Economist!  There’s also WebMD and Mayo Clinic.com for medical information, and so many health policy wonks that they’ve got their own review.
  • Movie Reviews: Rotten Tomatoes does a better job than your local newspaper.  If you want ‘expert’ critics rather than just the wisdom of the masses, famous critics such as A.O. Scott and Roger Ebert have their reviews on their own websites or you can find their reviews individually on Rotten Tomatoes as well.
  • Restaurant Reviews: For wisdom of the masses, see Yelp.  For “expert” opinion, there’s Zagat.  Again, the Internet wins over local newspapers.
  • Travel News: The photos and reviews on Tripadvisor trump almost any newspaper’s travel section.
  • Sports: ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, all do a better job than your local newspaper.  They have up-to-the-second score updates, team and player statistics, and editorials.  There’s a sports blog for nearly every team.  If you’re a Brewers fan interested in Sabremetric and statistical analysis go to BrewCrewBall.  If you prefer to have your sports analysis served up by economics professors, go to the Wages of Wins Journal.

So overall, the demise of the newspaper is does not mean the end of news.  People will get their news not only faster, but from a wider variety of sources.  The main drawback of the demise of the newspaper is the void left for investigative reporters.  Who will police the police?  Who will monitor public officials?  The monitoring of public officials is a hard job, that likely requires full-time reporters.  Who the new generation of investigative reporters will be has not yet been answered.

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