A notable death

Another newspaper died Tuesday.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, a Hearst publication, printed its last edition and said it would become an Internet-only news source.
To do so, the P-I, as locals call it, will shrink its news staff of 165 to 20. Its content will be mostly commentary, advice and links to other news sites.
Do the arithmatic: The people of Seattle will learn eight times less about the world that surrounds them.
The other daily, the Seattle Times, also is on the ropes. Perhaps Seattle will become the first major city in the country to be without a newspaper worth the name. Others surely will follow. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver folded a week or so ago, leaving a weakened Denver Post clinging to the ropes. The Chicago Tribune is operating under bankruptcy. Even the mighty New York Times has had to trim back its operations in the face of shrinking revenues.
As the carnage continues, the amount of information available to the public shrinks in direct proportion to the number of working reporters.
The on-line P-I in Seattle will make no effort to cover city, county or state government, except by way of editorial comment. Viewers will learn what their commentators think; they won’t have a clue about the day-to-day decisions that public officials make. Or, to be more accurate, they will only know what they can learn from the snippets broadcast on radio and television. Those items will probably be fed to them by expanded public relations offices in the governmental offices.
Eventually, the public will come to understand that the country’s major newspapers and news services, such as the Associated Press and Reuters, do the basic research, investigation and day-to-day reporting that produces the news product that makes democracy possible.
Moreover, it will be-come apparent that the Associated Press and Reuters — the world’s premier gatherers and distributors of information — become weaker each time a newspaper fails because newspapers are the customers that keep them strong. The Associated Press will be particularly affected because it is a cooperative that depends on member newspapers to feed it stories from their communities. No dailies in Seattle and Denver will mean far less news from those cities on national networks.
Radio and television also depend heavily on the news services for the information they broadcast. Network television can tell the world about itself because it has access to the newspapers that do the grunt work and support the investigative reporters who tell the people what governments, corporations and the other prime actors in society try to slant in their direction or hide altogether.
An optimist must believe that this weakening news scene will spawn a new set of information gatherers to give the people the information they must have to justify government by the people. The alternative is too grim to contemplate.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.