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In yesterday’s Washington Post , Michael Kinsley said good riddance to traditional newsprint. Capitalism, he argues, is just doing its job, and we’ll be left with a leaner, meaner, more efficient news distribution system in the end:

Capitalism is a “perennial gale of creative destruction” (Joseph Schumpeter). Industries come and go. A newspaper industry that was a ward of the state or of high-minded foundations would be sadly compromised. And for what?

You may love the morning ritual of the paper and coffee, as I do, but do you seriously think that this deserves a subsidy? Sorry, but people who have grown up around computers find reading the news on paper just as annoying as you find reading it on a screen. (All that ink on your hands and clothes.) If your concern is grander—that if we don’t save traditional newspapers we will lose information vital to democracy—you are saying that people should get this information whether or not they want it. That’s an unattractive argument: shoving information down people’s throats in the name of democracy.

But this really isn’t a problem. As many have pointed out, more people are spending more time reading news and analysis than ever before. They’re just doing it online. For centuries people valued the content

of newspapers enough to pay what it cost to produce them (either directly or by patronizing advertisers). We’re in a transition, destination uncertain. Arianna Huffington may wake up some morning to find The Washington Post gone forever and the nakedness of her ripoff exposed to the world. Or she may be producing all her own news long before then. Who knows? But there is no reason to suppose that when the dust has settled, people will have lost their appetite

for serious news when the only fundamental change is that producing and delivering that news has become cheaper.

Kinsley may be right—maybe large newspapers such as the Chicago Sun and the Boston Globe sat on their laurels for too long, assuming they were indispensable. Instead of adapting to the new reading patterns forged in the internet age, newspapers insisted on business as usual. But if the internet spells the end of newsprint, what happens to those communities who can’t remake themselves online? The newspaper in my small hometown in Missouri, for example, is having just as hard a time making ends meet as the New York Times .

But if the Clinton County Leader goes under, I doubt a Arianna Huffington type will be waiting in the wings. And even if the Leader were to move itself online, my small town just isn’t as centered around the internet as an east coast metropolis. An Internet-based news source simply couldn’t reach the population.

In the end, Kinsley insists that “If General Motors goes under, there will still be cars. And if the New York Times disappears, there will still be news.” That may be true. But in small towns, who will spread it?

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