As newspapers go digital, their business model erodes. A 2008 research report from Sanford C. Bernstein & Company explained, “The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face.”
In the foreseeable future, it seems, there will be two kinds of nonprofit newspapers—those which are deliberately so and those which are reluctantly so.
Yes, the dispersal of publishing through digital technology is itself a source of constitutional renewal, and already small digital publishers are proving through their enterprise and investigative reporting that the values underlying the old models will not disappear. Yes, my thinking is admittedly rooted in an aging generation’s experience. Still, there is just no substitute for the professional, civil-service-style, relentless independent thinking, reporting, and observation that developed in big newsrooms between the Second World War and whenever it was that the end began—about 2005 or so. And those qualities arose from the scale of those newsrooms, and the way the quasi-monopoly business model and high-quality family owners shielded them from political or commercial pressure—not perfectly, but largely. Yes, the big papers failed, as in the run-up to the Iraq war, but they succeeded much more often. They practiced a kind of journalism that, on the whole, was better for a democratic constitutional system than any journalism ever practiced before, anywhere. So sayeth me, at any rate.