The writing is on the web and the smart phone, not the wall, not the paper. Newspapers are dying because new generations with bottom up brains marinated in the internet no longer read newspapers. Under 30s want text message and twitter tweet length reading material and they want video and podcasts, not dead tree long writing.
Congress held hearings on the newspaper industry. There's talk or allusion to the idea that newspapers will be "rescued" by Obama, by Congress... That's a bad idea. They are rescuing the bathwater, not the baby.
The thing that newspapers do that is important is investigative journalism-- digging up the less than obvious, the secrets that government and corporate officials hide. Journalists make transparent that which has been hidden or made hard to see or find.
The new American business model, the one that has proven to be fabulously successful even in these tough times, is based on bottom up approaches. Google, Amazon, Facebook, myspace, twitter, to name a few, are all based on inviting the crowd into the business mix. Transparency is a big part of the new corporation and so is open sourcing of information-- that means giving things away free.
I'm a firm believer that a strong media, and that means strong investigative journalism, is essential for democracy and efficient operation of both government and corporations. Investigative journalism digs and exposes. That's an incredibly valuable function. It's so valuable, it's worth investing in... with the expectation of solid returns on that investment.
Establish a budget based on a reasonable rate of return. The US economy is about $13 trillion dollars. I say, invest a quarter of a tenth of one percent on journalists, whose job it is to investigate politicians, laws, corporations, with the goal to increase transparency, decrease corruption and increase responsibility, honesty, accountability, growth and prosperity. A budget that size is about $ 3.5 billion. With a salary model, we could hire 50,000 journalists at $60,000 a year plus healthcare with that budget.
Then, those journalists would be responsible for getting their work read. The best journalists would be picked up by the best media. The journalists whose work did not get attention would make less money each year. We have ways to measure interest and readership-- google ranking, technorati, quantcast, alexa.com, amazon all assess the traffic, the number of links and the popularity of things, sites, even ideas. If a writer's reporting is picked up by the TV news, by hundreds or thousands of bloggers, that writer is reaching a lot of people. A bottom up media approach will let we the people decide which journalists are the best.
Or, going even more bottom up, open journalism to every writer, photographer and videographer. Track their traffic and views, factor in the service they do, in terms of exposing waste, corruption, good work, etc. and reward them based on those factors.
In the bottom up world, where thousands or millions of people share in decision making, network TV has a limited place. There are exceptions. American Idol taps the wisdom of the crowd to some extent. That approach could be taken much farther. Imagine news shows where a bottom up approach was applied to deciding what news was covered. If you look at digg.com, del.icio.us, fark, reddit, yahoo's buzzup, buzzflash's buzz, and twitter tweet counts, they all enable users to vote on which headlines rise to the top. If a major network or a new network allowed viewers to decide what was covered, this would even allow network news to become bottom up. Would it work? The number of viewers would be a clear indicator. It won't be surprising if certain topics gather a lot of support that may not pull a lot of viewers. For example, if a group like Focus on the Family goes to a site and artificially votes up coverage of an abortion protest, but then, no-one watches the coverage, it will be easy to develop software that discounts votes for certain topics for a certain period of time.
Not all journalism is mediagenic and sexy. There will have to be some way to give credit to journalists who cover local school board and town council meetings, because they should be covered too.
Perhaps, by separating the two out, we'll have a clearer differentiation of what is news and what is noise and entertainment.
Naturally, those on the right will call this socialized journalism or socialist news. These are the same people though who fight to allow corporations to be treated as people, the same people who want to screw up the Internet and end net equality. These are the ones who block efforts to increase transparency in government, because this idea is all about transparency.