Possibly most serious, advertising is a more or less fixed pot. Huge portions of advertising revenue now supports the suppliers of the “search” for all sorts of already-produced information (including product and personal information) rather than journalistic entities which produce news – which is the story of huge capitalization of Google. Internet advertising that basically did not exist thirteen years ago clocked in at $21.2 billion in 2007 – with 41% going to advertising related to “searches” – and the amount is rising rapidly. That compares with annual newspaper advertising of roughly $40 billion, an amount in decline due primarily to this increasing diversion to online advertising. Though advertising always goes down even in minor recessions, even more so in anything like what the country is currently experiencing, the movement to online advertising is of historic significance for the news industry. Essentially the advertising that has long paid for journalism is in irreversible decline. Without a solution, the future may simply provide an inadequate financial basis for support of the journalism profession and for the news a democratic society needs.
In this strict economic sense, many Pittsburghers lament the passing of Kaufman's, but few Pittsburghers lament it more than the owners and employees of the Post-Gazette.
Baker's quarry is something bigger and broader than the survival of daily journalism. He is concerned about the quality of political life, which suffers in its absence. The failures of transparency and petty (and sometimes large) corruption that often characterize local and regional government go unexamined. Citizens have even less information than they usually get in order to make decisions about candidates, issues, and the other things that affect their lives. (Baker doesn't talk directly about bloggers, but it's clear that bloggers, alternative media, and citizen journlists can pick up only so much of the slack.)
Part Two, yet to come, will focus on possible solutions.
Updated 1/21 at 5:40 pm: While you're at it, read this post at Henry Jenkins's blog about the future of citizen / community journalism.
Updated 1/22 at 1:20 pm: Ed Baker has posted The Future of News - Part Two - Solutions, and the payoff is disappointingly grand. He proposes (1) that the federal government continue its 20th century policy of supplying large subsidies to institutions that employ professional journalists, and (2) that the subsidy consist of tax credits to offset the salaries of the journalists themselves. (2) ensures that the subsidy gets directed to the people who need it most (the writers and editors), rather than the people who need it least (the investors who are up to their eyeballs in debt), and it assumes, as is often the case these days, that news organizations can make an operating profit even in their current forms.
While we wait for the proposal to move to the top of the Congressional priority list, are there other suggestions? I have some, to come later.