If the newspapers do not survive, then what takes on the crucial social
and economic roles they have performed over the past century and more?
That is unknowable. Failing some inventive institutional spark, some
vital functions might simply go unperformed. The Internet is creating a
“tragedy of the commons” situation for news, and no one ever claimed
that all problems have solutions. Decay and decline are always options,
and–unless some mechanism is found to let producers of information
monetize their work–inevitabilities. Absent institutional invention, a
government-funded news service seems not just possible but likely,
possibly supplemented by privately funded organizations with varying
axes to grind.– James V. DeLong, The American
Because newspapers used to be the main conduit between people and the wider world, they were perfectly situated to leverage that relationship to generate income. Now that there are numerous free ways to get good news, the younger generation has never taken on the newspaper-buying habit. (I’m amazed to think that people will spend 20 cents for a text message.)
Here’s a good summary of a key point about why the internet is threatening print journalism. There’s still nothing wrong with the journalism, it’s just the mechanism that newspaper publishers used for earning money has not kept up with the habits of online news consumers:
The most immediate threat from the Internet is classified ads.
Newspapers are not efficient media for classifieds if there is an
Internet alternative. Classifieds are concentrated on the three big
categories of autos (24.4 percent), employment (33 percent), and real
estate (32.3 percent). These are all particularly vulnerable to the
current slump, but they are also vulnerable to complete cannibalization
by the Internet. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how this would not
happen, because these listings attract people who are actively looking,
not casual browsers flipping through a paper. So Craig’s List or other
specialized websites will take over this area. The papers themselves
are well positioned to run such sites, of course, but the threat of
competition will keep the prices down.
It costs money to get the physical pages in the hands of potential consumers. It’s cheaper to distribute the news online, of course, but it’s also easier to make money from online classifieds alone (without bothering to hire journalists to write the content that makes people page through the print edition).