Thursday, March 23, 2006

Praise be the middleman

I hereby freely stipulate to the challenges faced by newspapers and the general laziness and lack of vision of the industry's management.

But it is an error to think of newspapers as unnecessary and inefficient intermediaries in the flow of information, as do a trio of professors at the Wharton School of Finance in an otherwise illuminating essay at their strategic-management web site.

Newspapers, proffer the profs, "are a textbook example (stockbrokers are another) of an intermediary between sources of information and customers -- a role that is being increasingly challenged by the Internet."

Well-run newspapers (and most of them still are) add genuine value by exposing, vetting, contextualizing (assuming that is a word) and prioritizing valuable and often complex information.

By contrast, stock brokers, real estate agents and car dealers mostly charge a lot of money for introducing inefficiency in their respective markets. Their services generally add little value while significantly increasing transaction costs.

If we were left to a unedited world of canned sound bites, half-baked blog babble and random Net snips on Google News, we would be much more poorly informed and chaos would ensue.