By and large, newspapers have done this to themselves. Long before the Internet started lure readers away and undermine advertising models, newspapers were replacing editors with journalism backgrounds with editors with business and marketing backgrounds. Journalists were being laid off and serious reporting was being replaced with fluff pieces. (See the works of Robert McChesney for more info.)
I’ve got no particular attachment to Gannett, the Washington Post Company, or any media conglomerate losing their shirts right now. I wouldn’t care if every established newspaper in the country shutters its doors if there was something out there to replace them. But as of now, there isn’t.
Josh Ellis wrote a good piece on what newspapers are for, and in the comments admits that it doesn’t have to be newspapers that fulfill this function. But here’s the real point: we need fulltime reporters with the resources to do serious investigative reporting.
Josh uses the example of Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein’s Watergate stories to illustrate his point. I don’t think this is the best example. There will always be investigative coverage in DC – there are bloggers already making good money covering DC (the Talking Points Memo staff for instance).
Likewise, if there was no New Yorker, I don’t think it would have been hard to find someone else to publish the Abu Ghraib prison photos. Someone like Russ Kick or John Young would have published them, and blogs would have spread the story far and wide.
But what about The Jena Six? The local paper still dismisses the story. It took Howard Witt of the The Chicago Tribune, who spent a week in Jena before writing about it, to get the story international attention. Bloggers brought the story to Witt’s attention, but it was his real on-the-ground reporting that made the difference.
Here’s another example: Margaret Talbot’s coverage of immigrant detention centers for The New Yorker.
Are blogs in a position to do this sort of investigative work? I don’t really think so. Online media outlets (blogs or otherwise) are going to need to start making a LOT more money.