As Alan Rusbridger, editor of the UK’s The Guardian, recognized, it is never more easy to make one’s thinking public, and it will only get easier.
In a 2006 off-note lecture titled, “Newspapers in the age of blogs,” Rusbridger outlines scenarios of challenge faced by the “print-on paper newspapers” of Europe and North America where a decline in circulation means a decline in revenue. For instance, Rusbridger cites Craig’s List as an interruption in both traditional classified and advertising revenue, and such a threat in turn challenges the integrity of an independent press. Before advertising in papers, Rusbridger reminds us, politicians paid for space. Is this current decline in advertising revenue why we hear challenges that the Bush administration has actively sought favorable press from policy friendly reporters?
Such challenges to the public’s faith in the integrity of reporters working in Washington become a greater affront as thoughtful citizens recognize a disconnect between how newspapers behaved in the past (and some still behave today) in light of the wealth of knowledge available to anyone with internet access. Rusbridger recognizes newspapers can no longer assume the mantle of know-it-all. With e-mail and the internet, “people started talking to each other and they didn’t ask our (the newspapers’) permission.” Readers “went behind our back to our sources because increasingly the information we were using was available on the internet.”
If you want a book critique, why read the paper when you can go to Amazon. If you want a feature article or commentary on travel or entertainment or politics, there’s a social networking site or blog for that. Rusbridger acknowledges that for all the challenges, there are few clear answers. As the newspapers figure out their future, the public intellectual uses all these available sources to remain empowered.
Mutability is the key.