Democracy Can't Exist Without Newspapers?

from the banging-my-head dept

I really want to stop writing stories about clueless newspaper folks making braindead statements about the industry, but it just never stops. The latest is that the former editor of the Scotsman, in Edinburgh (where I'm heading next week), is claiming that democracy can't exist without newspapers. He's upset that the Scotsman has gone downhill apparently -- and that may be the case, but that has little to do with whether or not democracy can or can't exist without a newspaper. The mistake, again (and we keep hearing this) is this weird assumption that without newspapers, it means all news reporting goes away. But that's simply not true.

In fact, we're seeing new reporting startups pop up pretty much every day. The Columbia Journalism Review has a great feature piece written by a long-time foreign correspondent for a variety of newspapers who has built a brand new reporting service that is providing news both on its own site and to a number of other news sources (including some of the newspapers who used to employ him). The fact that newspapers might go away hardly means that journalism goes away -- and it certainly doesn't mean that watchdog efforts go away.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 2:14pm

    If I remember correctly it wasn't the newspapers who broke the major stories of the last 30 years or so, it was usually the TV news. And as far as I can tell TV is doing just fine.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 2:41pm

    If I don't get a newspaper, I won't get the news. Period. I hate watching the TV "news" with weather reports every five minute and ten minutes of sports, and there's not a single local website that provides the depth of coverage the local newspaper does. And I really, really hate reading for any length of time on a PC, desktop or laptop. I can read the newspaper anywhere, anytime, especially outside on a nice relaxing Sunday morning.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Eadwacer, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 2:48pm

    Legal issues

    I would worry that the more distant from 'the press' a medium is, the more it will be subject to different laws and restrictions, and the less protection it would have under the First Amendment

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 3:10pm


    What's stopping you? I don't see anybody twisting your arm and forcing you to watch TV or only read from a computer...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    ken, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 3:13pm

    truth terrorists

    My kids, now in their 20s, were taught in grade school to never cite a newspaper to support a fact. They were taught not to believe anything they read unless they could support it with further research. Needless to say, they don't subscribe to a newspaper. In general, most of the key articles in newspapers are sensationalized, biased, wrong, full of innuendo, half truths, etc. There is no way I believe anything in the paper relative to politics, science and technology, economics, or health. It seems like journalism has evolved into truth terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Brutus, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 4:18pm

    That's great, because democracies suck!

    Of course, Franklin was right, we couldn't keep the Republic.

    Democracy is two wolves and sheep deciding what's for dinner. Of course, the fun really starts when the sheep is gone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Guy One, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 4:28pm



    "A Liberal Democracy Can't Exist Without Newspapers!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    cornfedgamer, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 4:34pm

    newspapers=freedom of information

    I think what he means is that Democracy cannot exist without freedom of information, which up to this point has been represented through newspapers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 4:37pm


    Newspapers and TV reporting are skewed to the agenda of those in charge of decisions. Conservative, Liberal, For or Against, it does not matter, the position of the story pushes their agenda.

    What worries me is that the future could hold too many sources with too many agendas and people will not know who to believe. I get fake stories emailed to me all the time from friends and family, imagine that happening from 100 “independent” news outlets. The important stories will be lost in all the fake stories.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    HSO, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 5:37pm


    But how does this make democracy more real?
    The point is that you don't NEED newspapers, they can still be a good source of news, just not the only.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    GK, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 6:21pm


    It come down to keeping an eye on those power. And IMO, a critical eye is more important than an unbiased one. Newspapers have been a respected and powerful entity in the past, so when things like Watergate happened the reporters had enough cachet to get people to listen. While the newspaper is undoubtedly losing consumers to the internet and blogs, it is still place where mainly eyeballs, and the eyeballs of people who matter, go first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 4th, 2009 @ 6:59pm

    Hear Ye Hear Ye

    Democracy can not survive without the town crier

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Rodney Gagnon, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 5:10am

    The opposite couldn't be more true

    As a man in his 40's who hasn't read an actual paper newspaper in a decade (unless one is left in the seat pocket on my next flight), I am more informed than ever due to the expanding democratization of reporting sources including this blog. It seems to me that this editor's comment is simply out of fear and, sadly, ignorance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    gglibddy-diddy, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 5:11am


    Yes and if ALL you want are the "major" stories, continue to watch TV. BTW - You will only get the ones with good "sound bites" or video. Who cares about facts and icky stuff like that, as long as the bleach blond Bimbo smiles "real nice". TV - now that IS a trustworthy crowd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Harold, Mar 5th, 2009 @ 1:23pm


    More and more newspapers are getting their news from the Internet.

    The Santa Maria Times, most of the news is just cut and paste from the Internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Bill, Mar 12th, 2009 @ 10:47am


    this follows from a newly published book in UK titled Flat Earth News.

    it highlights the fact that journalists sit in offices taking PR outputs off newswires and will repurpose the same story in many different styles, languages and ways for different audiences which reinforces audience views and retains readership/viewers. any deviation from the story with comment may open them up to libel suits etc

    one of its conclusions is that US people get fed very little news about international stuff that they are largely ignorant about US foreign policy and people's reaction internationally. This is because most news is repurposed outputs from PR machines.

    another conclusion is that the decline in real and investigative journalism (which media will not pay for)is the decline in civil liberties as news is repurposed government PR

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Liza, Mar 17th, 2009 @ 1:03am


    I hate to break it to you but the independent's coverage of Scotland is rotten and certainly nothing to shout about. The problem with the Scotsman is that it is thirled to unionism and refuses to give the SNP Government a fair hearing. That is the reason for it's fall in sales, however having said that it is still substantially better in terms of it's Scottish coverage than the Daily Mail, Times or Telegraph which are even worse. The Scotsman group have a new Editor, maybe he can turn things around.



    homes for sale

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Audrey, Nov 10th, 2009 @ 1:52pm

    I think what the "democracy will die" radicalists are saying (inc Paul Starr) is not that the loss of newspaper will actually lead to the loss of democracy; but that new media is not picking up the slack fast enough. This leaves a gap where watchdogs do not have the resources to effecively act

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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