It’s hard not to be pleased by reports that weekday newspaper circulation is falling around 5% a year, and music CD sales plunged more than 20% in the last year alone. Broadband net access is killing the established media, with no end in sight. Who needs the newspaper or music industries when better and cheaper content is available elsewhere? Who will miss what they have become? Journalistic professionalism has turned newspapers into a mouthpiece for an aspiring ruling class. Newpaper journalists are J-school grads now, who like getting awards and climbing the professional ladder, and they put up with low pay and extreme competition for the sake of a common mission to rule the world. The Chicago Tribune and LA Times used to be foaming right-wing rags. Not perfect, perhaps, but at least they had views that were different from the New York Times. What are they now?
Still, one wonders. In the case of music the situation seems unequivocal. There are lots of good musicians who like to play for audiences, and whatever is bad for mass markets and the culture industry has to be good for musical life. The sooner the mass-market music biz disappears the better. Yay file-sharing! Journalism may be different. Less demand for newspapers probably means further consolidation among those that remain, and possibly defensiveness and greater uniformity in what counts as professional and responsible journalism. Or maybe the weakening of professional journalism will mean greater reliance on press releases, certified expertise, and the official positions of various organizations, to the extent those things are different from each other.
Basically, though, I’m somewhat optimistic. Blogs have their limits, and the “free market in ideas” is not perfect, but human beings form networks of reliance and trust when something important is at stake. I can’t help but believe that some way of informing oneself about public affairs will emerge from the wreck of the present system that’s at least as comprehensive and reliable as CBS News and the Washington Post.