John Branson of the Memphis Flyer recently wrote a widely-mocked column about the advantages of newspapers over new media.

As Adrian Holovaty highlights, the piece includes the extraordinarily silly suggestions that “the printed newspaper is morally superior to the computer” and “the printed newspaper is a perfect information delivery system”.

In fact, you have to read a lot of nonsense before getting to one good point in the last paragraph:

Finally, printed newspapers support working journalists. So what?, you say. Well, somebody has to gather information by going to meetings and interesting places and events and talking to people with different points of view. Somebody has to pay for that, and so far online advertising doesn’t come close. Opinions and blogs and summaries of other people’s work may be interesting, but they’re not news. …

But even that argument holds only until someone can come up with a way of making enough money from a news site to sustain a news-gathering organisation.

So far it looks like the traditional mass media business model — using journalism to attract readers whose attention to sell to advertisers in quantities big enough to sustain the expensive news-gathering process and pocket a profit — may not work in the hyper-fragmented world of online news.

Until someone comes up with a new way of financing news-gathering by making money from online nwes-delivery, we will still need the old media.

Sydney H. Schanberg made a similar point in the Village Voice recently, asking where the net will get news if newspapers die:

… it is newspapers, and a handful of probing magazines, that provide most of the in-depth journalism that uncovers and analyzes those fast-moving decisions and events. Blogsters, please don’t jump out of your pajamas — lots of you are doing valuable and admirable work keeping mainstream journalism on its toes. But serious journalism is labor-intensive and time-consuming and therefore requires large amounts of money and health benefits and pensions. The blogosphere has plenty of time, but as yet none of the other items.

So if and when newspapers fade into darkness, as the all-seeing oracles foretell, what will happen? Perhaps, in a future time of airborne pigs, altruism will suddenly infuse our culture, and money will descend, like manna, on the Internet to pay for the reporters to do the intensive journalism needed as a check on abusive power. And if altruism or labor-friendly corporate ideologies don’t magically appear? The oracles are mostly silent on that eventuality. Maybe they think samizdat is the answer. Maybe many of them don’t care.

Blogs are very good at fulfilling some of the information-processing functions that used to be fulfilled only by journalism: aggregating data already in the public domain and assessing the relative importance of various pieces of information. But the blogosphere is very weak on the most expensive (and important) function of journalism, first-hand information-gathering.