He suggests that media consolidation will continue, but maintains a place for local papers without competition. Movement away from corporate control and toward private ownership may represent another step in the right direction, especially if profit margin is not at the top of these new owners' lists. Newspapers are nothing less than bulwarks of democracy, and the hope is that wealthy philanthropists will make investments in dailies for the sake our very civic fabric.
Vesely is right to note that the "First Amendment will not provide (reporters) with a paycheck," nor is it an effective "business model." However, his hypothesis that readers are merely shifting to online sources may be a bit optimistic.
The National Endowment for the Arts released a 99-page study today suggesting that Americans are reading less and less on a daily basis. Among the troublesome findings were a 7% drop in voluntary book reading in the vital 18-24 demographic, meaning nearly half of this age group never reads for fun. The average person between the ages of 15 and 24 spends 2.5 hours before the TV, but a mere 7 minutes reading! Overall, despite the explosive growth of Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon, book sales have declined 14% since 1985.
This correlates with a dramatic drop in reading comprehension even among college graduates. Proficiency is equivalent to reading a daily newspaper, the reason I decided to tie these two developments together. Lack of proficiency impedes one's abilities to perform daily tasks at the workplace, not to mention participate in our democracy. The study finds that those who read for pleasure are more apt to have extensive social lives, to vote and be politically active, participate in the arts and cultural affairs, and volunteer.
In the end, the things that we continually lament about, namely low voter turnout and the decline of political awareness and more general civic engagement can be attributed to a culture and educational system that is failing to teach our young people the reading habits they need to thrive in the adult world. The key is to find a hook where kids are introduced to reading through a subject of interest to them. Daily, or at least weekly attention to current events in the classroom is also important, and their remains no better purveyor of this information than a local or national newspaper, many of them available free of charge as newspapers flair desperately for new readers.
I am admittedly more of an online newspaper reader myself, for it enables me to peruse the major dailies across the country at once, and to select articles more interesting to me personally. I concur with Vesely that there remains a place for good journalism, even as its print form fades to the dustbin of history. Moreover, I am confident that the business model will adapt to changing times, so longer as willing readers remain. The key is to find a way to focus young people on the task at hand, for reading is often impeded by television watching, video games, instant messages, and other computer usage. I, too, am guilty of this charge, and in this case, am left without an answer to the "noise" that surrounds us from every angle.