A post in which I predict the future... poorly
Here's an interesting story in which former Washington Post editor Len Downie Jr. ponders whether the Internet is more likely to kill off newspapers or television news. He's coming from the perspective of the very large, very well-funded Washington Post, but his argument has some relevance locally.
The survival of newspapers is, naturally, a subject near and dear to my heart. Generally, I've thought that losing audience to the Web challenges TV and newspapers in a similar way, but that newspapers had a several-year head start on the firing line (compared to TV news) because of the relatively recent emergence of Web video.
While newspapers can and do shoot video and put it on their Web sites, telling a story with both video and text is more often the exception than the rule (you can see a bunch of our video stories at http://www.gazette.com/video/). TV news stations seem to have an easier time writing text versions of reporters' stories to place on their Web site (although those stories sometimes read like afterthoughts).
TV news on the Web, however, is still limited to the kind of stories TV news does on TV - there are a lot of stories you read in the newspaper that TV news generally doesn't cover. Newspapers also have an advantage in that they usually have a local monopoly: There's only one daily newspaper in Colorado Springs, but there are four competing TV news departments. And newspapers have more reporters than TV stations do. Of course, economic pressures and falling print circulations are shrinking that gap, so being able to produce the news with fewer reporters might be a long-term advantage for television.
The real problem for local news on the Web, no matter who produces it, is that there isn't a strong financial model to pay for it. The Internet aggregates content and creates online communities extremely well, but it's a poor platform for localization. Most advertising goes to search ads at Google and Yahoo, but those ads are, thus far, not that useful if you want coupons for the local Safeway or to advertise the stamp shop you own. A newspaper or a television station is a fine platform for local advertising, but online, those local sites are competing against the New York Times and Google News and every other news source on the planet.
What happens next is something I think about a lot, but I have no good answers for. Will slimmed-down versions of our current news products continue to straddle both worlds? Could a single news source, either from a newspaper or a TV station, become dominant in a community, thereby attracting a large enough online audience for the economics to work? If advertising-supported local news was no longer econmically viable, would new news sources - perhaps subscription-supported, or paid for by non-profits or partisan organizations - pop up to replace them?