Editorial: We'd rave about newspapers if they were invented today

By Ken Paulsen, president of the Newseum and the Freedom Forum, Washington, D.C., and former editor of USA Today

I can understand why newspapers are not viewed as trendy today. After all, they were really the iPods of 1690.
But humor me, and consider this alternate history: Imagine if Gutenberg had invented a digital modem rather than a printing press, and that for centuries all of our information had come to us online.
Further, imagine if we held a press conference announcing the invention of an intriguing new product called the “newspaper.”
That press conference might go something like this: We’re pleased to announce a new product that will revolutionize the way you access information. It will save you time and money and keep you better informed than ever before.
Just consider the hours you’ve spent on the Internet looking for information of interest to you. We’ve hired specialists who live and work in your hometown to cull information sources and provide a daily report tailored to your community, your friends and your neighbors.
We also know that you sometimes wonder whether you can trust the information you see online. We plan to introduce a painstaking new process called “fact checking” in which we actually verify the information before we pass it along to you.
In addition to saving time online, you’ll also save money. You won’t need those expensive color ink cartridges or reams of paper because information will be printed out for you in full color every day.
You’ll also save money on access charges and those unpleasant fights over who gets time on the computer because this product will be physically delivered to your home at the same time each day, for less than what you would tip the guy from Pizza Hut.
You worry about your kids stumbling across porn on the Internet, but this product is prescreened and guaranteed suitable for the whole family.
And in a security breakthrough, we guarantee newspapers to be absolutely virus-free, and promise the elimination of those annoying pop-up ads.
It’s also the most portable product in the world, and doesn’t require batteries or electricity. And when the flight attendant tells you to turn off your electronic devices, you can actually turn this on, opening page after page without worrying about interfering with the plane’s radar.
To top it all off, you don’t need a long-term warranty or service protection program. If you’re not happy with this product on any day, we’ll redesign it and bring you a new one the next day.
I can see the headlines now: “Cutting-edge newspapers threaten Google’s survival.”
My point, of course, is that newspapers remain an extraordinary information bargain, and we shouldn’t be selling them short or lose sight of the qualities that make American journalism so critical to our democracy.
When we do our jobs as journalists the right way, when we strive every day to publish reports of integrity and balance, when we ask the tough questions, when we fight to keep the public’s business public and when we provide the kind of thorough and balanced reporting that is the lifeblood of a democracy, we fulfill our promise to that first generation of Americans who believed that one of the best ways to guarantee a democracy was a free and vigorous press.
There are people counting on us.