This is a golden age for news junkies. You can access hundreds of newspapers-not to mention magazines, e-zines and a plethora of other sources-on the Web for free. Most mornings, I download the Washington Post for its political coverage. When reading one newspaper isn’t enough, I read the San Jose Mercury News for its technology reporting, the New York Times for its international coverage and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to reclaim my southern roots. Though I reside in Massachusetts, I almost never read the Boston Globe. Not much of interest to me there.I read these various papers in search of local differences and regional perspectives. But will these viewpoints prevail? We may be watching America’s strong tradition of city newspapers gasping in the snare of the Web’s more geographically dispersed communications. Local papers face stiff competition on the Internet, vying for the attention of not only news enthusiasts but sports fans and movie buffs already gleaning their information from the likes of ESPN and Entertainment Weekly. The American news media are facing a moment of transition, an unavoidable evolution. And though they desperately try to define a niche for themselves, many will find their days numbered.
America’s newspapers have their roots in our country’s ideologies and geography. While other nations are dominated by competing national papers, America’s expansiveness made national papers impractical. A change occurred in the mid-19th century, with the introduction of the telegraph. It enabled the rapid distribution of news, and thereby entailed a more objective mode of writing, so that stories could be reproduced without regard to local context.
The Web is completing the task the telegraph began. Today, much national news comes over the Internet, resulting in less local inflection of the news. Americans now get more of their news from national sources such as the Associated Press than from local media outlets. With the refocus on national rather than local news, regional papers have slashed their staffs or closed their doors.
Perhaps the big city newspaper has simply outlived its usefulness. The average American moves 11 times over the course of a lifetime, often crossing regions in search of employment opportunities. Why read a city paper when you have so little long-term investment in local communities?