Contemplating the woes of newspapers (after a career spent in newspaper journalism), I started trying to think of earlier examples of technological changes that have brought down once-vital concerns.
It was surprisingly difficult. I guess you could count staged vaudeville revues losing out to radio entertainment, or radio "sitcoms," variety shows and spoken dramas giving way to TV sitcoms, the Ed Sullivan Show, and never-ending soaps. But what struck me is that, as the generations roll, the old forms just fade away, hardly missed.
So the question might be raised: in 2010, with new media (let's just lump it all together as the Internet) seeming to be shoving print journalism out of the picture, will the newspaper pass away equally unlamented? Just as I grew up with no nostalgia for a radio that offered more than a wallpaper of popular music, will today's young people quickly forget that daily stack of half-folded newsprint that used to start so many Americans' morning?
Maybe so. But in this case, we're not just talking about entertainment.
When I was young, the New York Times' brave printing of the Pentagon Papers and the Washington Post's Watergate exposes drove home the importance to democracy of enterprising, capable, thorough journalism found only in print. Recently, the Post's series on the out-of-control, counter-productive proliferation of a government-private "Top Secrete America" reminds us once again of that importance. Somehow, one has trouble imagining Internet bloggers, TV blabbers, or any other institution taking a newspaper's place - nationally, or on Main Street America.
Such reporting really is necessary to a democracy. Unless we keep reading - and paying for - those stacks of newsprint, technological changes will result in a thin gruel indeed.