In future, as newspaper fade and change, will politicians therefore burgle their opponents' offices with impunity, and corporate villains whoop as they trample over their victims?Journalism schools and think-tanks, especially in America, are worried about the effect of a crumbling Fourth Estate. Are today's news organizations up to the task of sustaining the informed citizenry on which democracy depends asked a recent report about newspapers from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, a charitable research foundation.
Nobody should relish the demise of once-great titles. But the decline of newspapers will not be as harmful to society as some fear. Democracy, remember, has already survived the huge television-led decline in circulation since the 1950s. It has survived as readers have shunned papers and papers have shunned what was in stuffier times thought of as serious news. And it will surely survive the decline to come.
That is partly because a few titles that invest in the kind of investigative stories which often benefit society the most are in a good position to survive, as long as their owners do a competent job of adjusting to changing circumstances. Publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal should be able to put up the price of their journalism to compensate for advertising revenues lost to the internet——especially as they cater to a more global readership. As with many industries, it is those in the middle——neither highbrow, nor entertainingly populist——that are likeliest to fall by the wayside.
The usefulness of the press goes much wider than investigating abuses or even spreading general news; it lies in holding governments to account——trying them in the court of public opinion. The internet has expanded this court. Anyone looking for information has never been better equipped. People no longer have to trust a handful of national papers or, worse, their local city paper. News-aggregation sites such as Google News draw together sources from around the world. The website of Britain's Guardian now has nearly half as many readers in America as it does at home.