Slate press guy vs. hype about newspapers as saviors of democracy

image Mencken (photo) loved newspapering. But he did his best to be impervious to the industry ballyhoo, and I think he’d have enjoyed the latest from Jack Shafer, press critic for Slate, which the Washington Post Company owns. Shafer’s headline is Democracy’s Cheat Sheet: It’s time to kill the idea that newspapers are essential for democracy.

I’m a sucker for the Baghdad bureau line—will bloggers be able to persist in on-the-scene coverage, year after year?—and I think Shafer might have overstated his case a bit. Keep in mind, however, that he himself "love[s] news on newsprint" and is not rooting for newspapers to fail.

That said, newspapers are in fact wildly overselling themselves on occasion. My favorite gem is an anti-Net piece that the Washington Post published from a helpful freelancer, complete with such lines as: "A reduced supply of information technology might at least gradually cause us to gravitate toward community-centered media such as local newspapers instead of the hyper-individualistic outlets we have now." Of course. May our vigilance never cease against "hyper-individualists"!

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David Rothman

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