"We all must save America's newspapers"

So says Brian Wilder of Cranston, who has an eloquent -- and important -- letter to the editor in today's ProJo:

As a daily newspaper reader, how would you like it if you could only get news from the Internet?

As newspapers across the country shrink, lay off staff or shut down, this is where we are headed. For example, The Boston Globe recently closed all of its foreign news bureaus, while the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Morning News and dozens of other major papers have recently had significant staff layoffs. The Providence Journal shrinks every year, and more and more daily newspapers simply shut down.

And it’s only going to get worse as corporate takeovers squeeze out quality in order to increase suddenly inadequate profits, and as the Internet shoves newspapers further and further out of the picture.

As imperfect as newspapers are, I want to get more, not fewer, articles and investigations written by professional journalists that detail the facts behind the latest town, state and national events and controversies. The Internet, by contrast, is a jumble of opinion blogs and Web sites that provide no regular coverage of a spectrum of day-to-day events, certainly not in any detail, and operates with no accountability for what is published. Most commercial radio and TV news is simply lifted from articles in the local newspapers.

Those of us who want newspapers to thrive should do two things:

First, subscribe to at least one daily newspaper. It’s much cheaper than buying one every day and it helps ensure that our daily newspapers remain healthy.

And second, find ways, probably through the newspaper unions, to fight to protect our local papers from the culture of corporate takeover and profit squeezing.

I don't think there's much hope for fending off "the culture of corporate takeover and profit squeezing." That's simply too far along. But Wilder hits on an important point: for all the value of blogs (like those put out by my liberal and conservative friends), they can not replace the critical mass of news-gathering capacity represented by a metro daily. The ProJo might be a pale imitation of its former self (and it's hardly alone, of course, among American newspapers in this respect), but give it credit for still having a serious investigative team and a three-person State House bureau that combine to break and report many of Rhode Island's most important stories.

The danger, as Wilder suggests, is what happens when this kind of news-gathering infrastructure is continually weakened, and no one really seems to have a good answer for that.

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