Pick a day, say Jan. 21, 2009, and imagine that nearly all journalism will vanish. Local newspapers are kaput, having disappeared from street boxes and the racks at your favorite lunch spot. Turn on the NPR stations, and you hear nothing but static. The TV, well there's always TV. Oops, too bad, its broadcast has shrunk from 24 minutes to three. The only news left is Greg Fishel announcing the cold front has stalled over the coast, and the troubleshooter trying to get the delinquent contractor to finish a little old lady's vinyl siding.
Even the Internet is taking a hit: Aggregators have little to aggregate. The only remaining information sources are the bloggers who report, rather than ruminate, and the too-few electronic media that do original reporting.
It would be a dark day, indeed.
The downsizing that has hemorrhaged print journalism has also bled into radio, television and even some online sites. Dozens of times in the past month I've been thwacked by subject lines in my inbox like "media carnage" and "another watchdog bites the dust."
And now the layoffs have seeped into the Indy.
After a year in which we had the most employees on staff in the paper's history—35—last week the Indy laid off two people, a reporter and the promotions coordinator, as well as reduced our freelance budget by 10 percent.
Like those who survived the massive layoffs at Office Depot, Bank of America, Sony and hundreds of other companies, we will have to work harder and longer to do our jobs. We must continue delivering meaty stories on news, politics and culture—and to supplement the print edition with Web-only, interactive content. A tall order, but one we have no choice but to fill.
I'm not a hand-wringer, nor do I fear online media. In fact, I embrace it. (I'm guilty of reading daily newspapers online. I always make it a point to sit through the ads, if only to convince the eyeball trackers that, yes, this format can make money.)
But I'm not content with an online-only world, either. Media should be diverse, not only in its ownership and mission, but in its forms. There are lofty, reasonable arguments to be made about a diverse, healthy media serving as the cornerstone of democracy. There's another, more primal reason: The tactile difference between curling up with a newspaper or a laptop is akin to sitting with a cat on your lap or a porcupine.
It is unlikely there will come a day when there is no journalism. But there may be a time when there are too few voices and viewpoints. And that does strike at the heart of democracy.