During the past few months, the crisis in journalism has reached meltdown proportions. It is now possible to contemplate a time when some major cities will no longer have a newspaper and when magazines and network-news operations will employ no more than a handful of reporters.

There is, however, a striking and somewhat odd fact about this crisis. Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of newsmagazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever — even (in fact, especially) among young people.

The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines. [How to Save Your Newspapers via TIME]

Good journalism from mainstream media is extremely valuable. New media (i.e. uprising of citizen news+blogging websites) can never supplant international journalistic institutions, because they lack the infrastructure necessary for breaking BIG stories and holding governments and businesses accountable.

The Web spoils us with the idea that journalism is free. With online readership on the rise in spite of falling revenues, newspapers need to begin charging for online content. The traditional advertising-only revenue model alone is flawed cannot continue to support our newspapers.

For a subscription based or micropayment system to work, the process just has to be simple and easy enough. Pennies for an article, dimes for a full edition, or a dollars for months’ worth of access? I wouldn’t mind. Charging for unique content, “online extras” if you will, that leverages the full power of the Internet, is another possibility.

The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the “executive summary.” Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply…
[All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper via WSJ]