What a sorry coincidence. The very week National Post publishes a series of articles underlining the importance of newspapers, it temporarily drops its Monday edition as a cost measure.

Canadian newspapers generally are suffering these days due to much reduced ad revenues and relentless cost pressures. Against the backdrop of the U.S., where major newspapers are cash and profit starved, going strictly digital or folding altogether, you begin to think newspapers don’t have a future.

The Post, of course, is right to reassert the value of newspapers and to suggest it will be with us for a long time. The argument really boils down to two points: We need them and we read them.

Newspapers have always been savagely criticized. Even H.L. Mencken, a newspaperman for half a century, observed they were devices “for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.”

Most, however, have given newspapers and other elements of the fourth estate their due as guardians of democracy, independent overseers with the ability to alert the rest of us to abuse and excess.

You can argue forever about the relative accuracy of newspapers, but the fact is they have been around a long time and developed journalistic traditions that render what’s on the printed page more — rather than less — truthful. And with new and questionable sources of information and comment proliferating hourly on the Internet, newspapers’ “truthiness” — as Stephen Colbert would say — is golden.

Recent Newspaper Audience Databank (NADbank) numbers show people understand this.

Readership in Canada’s 19 largest markets has been remarkably stable for five years, and readership of daily newspapers around the world has grown.

But neither audience strength nor civic virtue guarantee a healthy future for newspapers.

Once the recession ends and revenues come back, publishers will still have to confront the thorniest question of the Internet era: Finding new and profitable ways to get valuable and trusted content into the hands of a shifting audience.

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