We grew up imagining the newspaper as primarily a purveyor of the news, and pundits still write about it that way, regularly bemoaning the potential “loss” of a pillar of the American democratic system. But looked at in a fiercer way, everything about the present moment tells us that was never the real story.
It’s clearer now that the newspaper as we knew it was, first and foremost, a purveyor of ads. That, not the news, was what actually mattered, which should be apparent to anyone who bothers, for instance, to glance at the anorexic Sunday New York Times Magazine. Like the Incredible Shrinking Man of 1950s sci-fi, it’s disappearing right before our eyes. Ads fleeing the premises take journalists, bureaus, meaning, the news itself, the paper, everything, with them.