There’s been an interesting dust-up between two quality Georgia bloggers regarding the future of newspapers. Atlmalcontent posted a missive that included the line “but 1,000 untrained, part-time muckrakers can’t do the work of 50 professional journalists.” and GriftDrift took some exception. If you’d like an interesting read, check out the comments from Atlmalcontent’s blog.

With the enormous challenges facing the newspaper industry, it’s apparent that some changes have to be made. It’s not a profitable industry anymore, and some change in the business model is bound to occur. Whether this includes micropayments (which I’m in cautious support for) or a fully online paid model is unclear- both have their drawbacks, because it’s near impossible to convince people to pay for content that’s been essentially free for the past decade online.

I think we’re moving into a different period in American journalism. Previous J-School graduates were taught journalism and given a broad knowledge base so that they could credibly write about sports, or government, or economics. It was a “one journalist fits all” model, and it worked pretty well until recently.

The new wave of blogging has changed things though. Now, we have sports agents, or government officials, or economists who actually do the writing themselves, for free. For example, if I want to know about the TARP issue, I could choose to go to the AJC. Or, I could just read Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman’s blog (published under the NY Times banner) and get the same information from a person infinitely smarter on the issue than any of the reporters who write for the newspaper.

This shouldn’t suggest that reporters aren’t valuable, because they are. But when economic experts write content for free, it’s tough to compete if you’re the local economics reporter.

I think if newspapers devote more time to hard investigative journalism- essentially chasing stories through their source network and doing the FOIA requests that bloggers are loathe to do- they would deliver unique and compelling content that people would actually read and pay for on a regular basis.

And locally? I like the Gainesville Times and Access North GA. I am acquainted with several of their hard-working people. Heck, one of their photogs is linked to on my sidebar, and I’ve never met or talked to her in my life- I just like her work. They deliver news that is useful to me, because there is no one filling that role in this area- yet.

But if newspapers simply re-write press releases and quote Krugman’s blog, they’re put at a competitive disadvantage if credible blogs (see Tondee’s Tavern or Peach Pundit) continue to increase in number and influence.

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