Community influence the future of newspapers?

Philip Meyer thinks the endgame for newspapers is in sight and that the papers will vanish even faster than he has concluded before. Some newspapers might survive by publishing less frequently and concentrating on “evidence-based journalism”. The key is community influence:

I still believe that a newspaper’s most important product, the product least vulnerable to substitution, is community influence. It gains this influence by being the trusted source for locally produced news, analysis and investigative reporting about public affairs. This influence makes it more attractive to advertisers. By news, I don’t mean stenographic coverage of public meetings, channeling press releases or listing unanalyzed collections of facts. The old hunter-gatherer model of journalism is no longer sufficient. Now that information is so plentiful, we don’t need new information so much as help in processing what’s already available. Just as the development of modern agriculture led to a demand for varieties of processed food, the information age has created a demand for processed information. We need someone to put it into context, give it theoretical framing and suggest ways to act on it.

In some respects, what Meyer is describing is concepts like The Economist, and in Scandinavia Mandag Morgen in Denmark and Norway (disclosure: I used to work at the Norwegian edition and still write for them). Community influence among its small, but influential readership is certainly one of the cornerstones of the MM concept.

A quite original point from Meyer is that there’s no reason to worry about the consequences of democracy of a future where newspapers are more elitist than today. No problem, he says:

As far back as 1940, the sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld discovered that voters get their information from one another as much as from direct consumption of the media. He called this the “two-step flow” from opinion leaders to the general public. The Internet is enhancing that two-step flow, converting it to a many-step flow. The problem is not distributing the information. The problem is maintaining a strong and trusted agency to originate it. Newspapers have that position of trust in the minds of the public.