Our own New Zealand Herald shows what happens when a newspaper thinks that cutting its newsroom staff is a sensible answer to falling circulation. Basically, the less news-writing resource the paper has, the more news gets written by those who are willing to put money into it. Namely, those who stand to make money out of manipulating public opinion.
It's most obvious in political coverage, both here and in the US. Reporters no longer make any effort to cover politics: they simply reprint, largely unchecked, the stories fed to them by professional spin doctors. (I know how that works. I've edited a magazine myself.) In the US now, "political reporting" means getting two insane people to shout at each other for three minutes, while a nominal moderator makes token efforts to drag them back on-topic. The ghost of Joseph Pulitzer forbid that they might say something that could be interpreted as critical of the talking heads. That would be "expressing an opinion".
(And that, dear Americans, is why Fox News is wiping the floor with the older networks, and why your best current-affairs programme comes from Comedy Central. Those journalists are not only allowed, they're actively encouraged, to take up a position of their own.)
In the UK, the BBC has been a layer of insulation against this effect. But even the Beeb has spread its abundant resources too thin, in pursuit of the chimerical 24-hour news cycle. And now it's under direct attack, by the likes of Murdoch Jr and his minions in the Tory party. "It is essential for the future of independent digital journalism", bleats James Murdoch, "that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it."
Newsflash, Mr Murdoch: nobody pays for "independent digital journalism". There are some things you just can't pay for, even if you want to. If journalism is to be independent, it has to be free in both senses of the word.
Let's try to formulate a pithy observation here:
Professionals do what they're paid to do.Okay, that seems a little... oblique. But it's actually at the heart of the problem. Let's try a corollary:
Professionals hate to work when they're not being paid.Still not clear? Okay, try this:
A true professional will do the bare minimum amount of work required to get paid.Really, that's implicit in the word "professional". If we want people to do better, that's the word we have to focus on.
Already, it's obvious that bloggers do a far better job than "professional" journalists of covering many stories, because they're keen. Therefore, they don't stop working the moment they've got "enough" for today.
Sadly, there's no way of getting an actual news feed from blogs, because blogs simply don't try to cover all news. If they did that they'd be newspapers, employing professional staff paid to do things they weren't particularly interested in, and we'd be back to square one.