The Gruntleds are heavy news consumers. We listen to National Professors Radio -- I mean, National Public Radio -- each morning. A normal evening in our house has everyone on a laptop reading some kind of news, with cable news in the background, leading into fake news on TV. We have among us dozens of news and semi-news blogs on RSS feed. Mrs. G. has the BBC website as her homepage (I, of course, have Centre College :-) ). Many a blog starts with the New York Times.com or CNN.com or BBC.com. And we subscribe to two daily newspapers, which I read religiously. If news were cut off, we would be in big trouble.
But if newspapers disappeared, our life would barely change.
It is clear that newspapers are in big trouble everywhere. Recently I read some speculation that one consequence of the current recession might be to decimate newspapers as an industry, shrinking down to the very big and the very local.
On the whole I can see more benefits than costs to converting news delivery to electronic forms. They are easier to search, quote, save, and link together.
My only concern is that there is not enough money in online news to support reporters, especially local reporters. Local news may become entirely a part-time "mom job" carried by stringers. We already have the example of the California paper that is written entirely by part-timers in India, reworking public sources. National news may become a subset of cable news. I dearly hope that subscription models of national news sources might work, but I can't think of any right now that I feel a need to subscribe to. Television is profitable because it includes ads in the one information stream it offers at a time, but television is a very bad medium for news.
We do need news, and that means news that pays. We don't need newspapers.