I’ve been awestruck by the Boston Marathon bombing coverage in the Boston Globe and New York Times, just as I was by the Times’ coverage of Sandy and the Denver Post’s coverage of Aurora. But I can’t help but wonder: how much longer will the rest of us — and by “us” I mean readers, the broadcast media, the commentariat and the blogosphere — be able to count on people with poor pay and severe job insecurity to keep us informed in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster? Wire services are important too, but they lack the staffing to match what even a depleted newspaper can do with a local story. Newspapers in their current form will cease to exist in the not-too-distant future. Then what?
Back when I was a grad student at Berkeley in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the East Bay Express defined for me what an alt-weekly should be — in-depth reporting on topics that the local dailies weren’t covering, excellent arts coverage and a strong sense of civic pride (backed with withering criticism of public officials who failed to serve the local community properly).
When I moved to NYC in the mid-’90s, I thought the Village Voice was, by contrast, shrill and unreadable (other than Nate Hentoff and Tom Tomorrow). Today, I don’t even pick the Voice up for the listings.
Everyone likes to poke fun at the supposed obsolescence of daily newspapers, but it’s their business model that’s obsolete, not their newsgathering function. Newspapers are still indispensable. Back in the day, the best alt-weeklies were too.