Warren Buffett, whose company owns the Buffalo News, expresses his amazement at how quickly newspapers are losing ground. Buffett is obviously very astute as an investor, but he shouldn’t be so surprised. Newspapers have been fumbling around for 20 years while they lost readership. It began before the Internet was a factor, so it can’t all be blamed on technology. Something will eventually serve the function that newspapers filled for more than 200 years in this country, although the transition is obviously rocky. The desire and need to know is too great for the void not to be filled.

Technology has made it possible for more than 150 years to report news immediately. Anyone who could receive telegraph messages could know what was going on in a particular place almost to the minute. The problem was that most people didn’t have telegraph machines in their homes. When radio came along, people could also receive news immediately as it happened. The problem was that people who listened to the radio were interested in more than news, and it wasn’t commercially viable for radio stations to report news only. Even if they could, the volume of news that they could report was limited. Even if it was unlimited, if you weren’t listening to news when a particular report was made, and it wasn’t repeated, then you missed it. Ditto for television.

The difference is that the Internet can present news immediately. It’s always there when you want to read it, or watch it, or listen to it. (It’s multi media, in other words, as well as being immediate). And people can receive it almost anywhere now using machines that aren’t very expensive. Newspapers have lost their preeminent position as the necessary intermediary for comprehensive information.

The problem is that the prevailing notion with the Internet is that information should be free–free to consumers that is. But, to raise this question again, who’s going to pay the cost of gathering the information? That’s the heart of the matter. And if newspapers continue to fade away, we still don’t have an answer to that question.