WORLD

No newspapers, no democracy?

We've added a comment by Rick Edmonds. The editorial that appeared in the International Herald Tribune on Monday morning is certainly not going to please the global blogosphere. The author raises concerns over the potential death of newspapers, flooded by increasing numbers of online publications which, ironically, only comment on material produced by others. We ask our Observers specialised in new media to comment on the critique. Read more...

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Photo: "Hyperscholar".

The editorial that appeared in the International Herald Tribune on Monday morning is certainly not going to please the global blogosphere. The author raises concerns over the potential death of newspapers, flooded by increasing numbers of online publications which, ironically, only comment on material produced by others. We ask our Observers specialised in new media to comment on the critique.

According to Bloomberg journalist Albert R. Hunt, people should be as concerned about the fall of newspapers as they are the fall of the banks. He says that society without a tough media is not democracy. He even mentions the French government's proposition to subsidise newspapers and the dangers it might bring. He cites a Harvard researcher who estimates that "about 85 percent of the news people get is initially generated by newspapers" and that most scandals are revealed by professional hacks who have the time and the means to investigate.

Are online publications, blogs and news sites only capable of regurgitating information produced by the old-school reporters? We'll be publishing reactions from our specialists in the field as they come in. So check back to this page more than once.

"I have the minority view that newspapers are not necessarily dying"

Rick Edmonds is a media analyst fit the Poynter Institute.

I have the minority view that newspapers are not necessarily dying.  People over 45 prefer the print format.  There are a lot of them, and they will be around for awhile.  Equally important, advertisers find print display ads effective and pay a premium for them even with some erosion of audience. Perhaps with better targeting and better formats the same will become true for online display ads.  Right now they are neither welcome by users nor a tested success with advertisers.  Newspaper companies are mostly over-leveraged and in terrible shape.

The great majority of newspapers, though, were still reasonably profitable in 2008 (admittedly 2009 will be tougher).  Al Hunt is correct that losing the best of newspaper journalism or even its daily monitoring and ordering of events would be a great blow to democracy.Unfortunately some of that is happening already as news staffs are downsized."

"The fourth estate has to be controlled by a fifth estate"

Bertrand Pecquerie is the director of the World's Editors Forum, an organisation which tracks media trends and the evolution of the press.

The fight between two forms of collective intelligence is an integral part of Web 2.0. Since the invention of blogging and social networking, the collective intelligence of a newsroom - an English invention coined in 1785 with the first edition of The Times of London - has been challenged by the collective intelligence of bloggers. The latter can react more quickly than a small team of professional journalists, and, more importantly, they have the facility of being able to mobilise thousands of ‘little helpers'.

The battle came to a head in September 2004, when Dan Rather quit CBS and his '60 Minutes' show after an investigation by the blogosphere revealed that documents he used to question George W. Bush's military record were not legitimate.   

Since then, the two forms of intelligence have continued to exist side by side, and there's nothing bad about that. The fourth estate has to be controlled by a fifth estate. And if in two centuries the question of when this fifth power emerged and who represented it should arise, then it's already answered - by web users who get together to find the answer to a given question. The risk of manipulation, however, is a problem. Risks are multiplied because the various stages of fact checking done in a newsroom simply don't exist on the blogosphere.

And if we should ask ourselves who's going to control this fifth power? Well, the good old separation of powers theory certainly has a healthy future ahead of it."

"Newspapers [...] can sometimes act as a hindrance to democracy"

Carlo Revelli is founder of Agoravox, a citizen media website where all articles are produced by ‘internet-writers'.

Democracy no longer has an essential need for newspapers like it had until now. Most importantly, democracy needs competent and capable journalists to be able to express themselves freely. In fact newspapers, with the inevitable agreements and relations that they become entangled in, can sometimes act as a hindrance to democracy. Web guru Clay Shirky recently visualised the inevitable death of newspapers in the US [‘Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable']... But not the death of journalists.

There are few people who understand that information should not be a profitable material like any other. We can't produce, distribute and sell information using the same marketing techniques that we use for cars or shoes, for example.

All of commercial society aims intrinsically for the profit of its shareholders. That, in the case of the media, will eventually result in, sooner or later, a conflict of interests. This is not a point of view; it's fact. The same thing with accepting public aid - it infringes on the editorial policy of an independent media.  

Really, the state is a kind of shareholder itself, with its interest left more or less open. Help which comes from just one source (especially if it's a public one) can be dangerous. The origin of a donation needs to be looked into, in the way that Wikipedia works with the internet.

In times of crisis, like now, it's indispensable to think of new media models which are both ethically and profitably sound. The press must be able to continue no matter what pressure or threat. The best way for independent media to ensure freedom, independence and resilience is to set up a charity foundation [which is how Revelli funds AgoraVox]."