In effect, we deputize editors to be our proxies, delegating to them the task of assigning reporters and deciding what news we need to know on a given day and to certify its pertinence and accuracy. We trust them to do a more reliable job than even our own Web-surfing. (As Chico Marx famously put it in Duck Soup, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”). But as readers, we no longer have to make that either/or choice between newspapers and the wild Web. We can have both the authoritative daily newspaper to aggregate and certify, and the infinite medley of the Web—all of which puts the traditional press under salutary pressure to innovate and to excel.
As Generation Y grows up, and Generation Z finds the idea of getting news on paper even quainter, more people like Ezra (and his children) will become their own editor-aggregators. But if the dailies do their jobs, the next generation will still read newspapers—online.
My reporting suggests that many big dailies have turned the corner, though only barely and just in time, that newspapers have started down a financially and journalistically viable path of becoming hybrids, without losing the professional culture that makes them uniquely valuable.
Assuming that most dailies survive the transition, my guess is that in twenty-five years they will be mostly digital; that even people like me of the pre-Internet generation will be largely won over by ingenious devices like Times Reader, supplemented by news alerts, rss feeds, and God knows what else. But whether newspapers are print or Web matters far less than whether they maintain their historic calling.