It is very true that newspapers are hurting, and Milbank is quite right, although misnaming the problem, that the business model for newspapers is no longer tenable (in the column, it's "economic model"). Yet, I really doubt that David Simon's jeremiad before a Senate panel will be an accurate prediction of the future:
At a Senate hearing last month on the decline of newspapers, David Simon, the reporter turned HBO producer, put it this way: "The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be a halcyon era for state and local political corruption. It is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician."
So, because some newspapers have gone under, and others are hanging on mostly by main force, we will suffer through a whole series of corrupt localities? Like Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is still getting away with pay for play in . . . oh, wait, that's right, he's gone.
There are very good, very hard working journalists doing the near-impossible task of ferreting out what is really going on behind the rhetoric and formal processes of government all over the country. There are also, to my mind, many target-rich environments, not the least of them my home county of Tioga County, NY. The County is run by convicted felon and former mayor of my hometown Andrew Quinlan.
The thing is, there will always be John Wilkes out there. There will always be issues and events and situations for John Wilkes to investigate, problems to ferret out, memos to read and put in context, conversations to report, and (obviously) secret bank accounts to discover. This kind of journalism feeds a desire, a need, a demand, and as such there will be a way to turn this demand in to a profitable business, as long as those who create the business model accept the changing times, and offer their product in a way that people not only accept, but are willing to pay for.
That's the trick, and most are still trying to figure it out. Doing so in the middle of a recession doesn't help, but all sorts of traditional business models collapse during such times, to be replaced by new, and different, and relevant ways of doing business. The practice of journalism, including local reporting and investigative journalism, will continue. The way it is offered as a product to be consumed will change. That's all.