On the weekend I met two former Australian lecturers of mine – Jason Nelson and Ben (whose last name neither Parker nor I can remember) – when the conversation turned to the demise of newspapers. Ben's argument was that they probably would stay around, after all we're still listening to the radio. Something about that argument felt wrong, even though at that moment I couldn't articulate it. Thinking about it more, I realised that this view is very ahistoric. When radio started, people would schedule their lives around it. They would wait for a certain programme to be broadcasted to gather the whole family around it and consciously absorb what the wireless had to say.
Then television arrived and took over exactly that role. Now people were staying at home to watch evening shows and sometimes were even attired to underline the specialness of the moment. It was like going to the theatre, only in one's own home.
Radio couldn't compete with that. Instead it started to serve a different purpose: It served as background noise, something that tootles along while you're in the office or driving to work. No one scheduled his life around the broadcast schedule anymore, instead the interchangeable format radio became the norm. "Five songs in a row with no ads or talking!" That function is certainly different to the one of the printed press whose products you'd have to consciously read in order to make meaning of them.
Then again this isn't a process that couldn't be democratised with the help of internet, the best examples being sites like digg or reddit. Here the users decide which information enters the front page which in turn acts like a catalyst again (just like sites iliketotallyloveit.com serve as means of democratisation of something as elitist as 'style')
These 'democratic catalysts' certainly aren't without problems. Power users might dominate which content gets voted for, fads become more important than news and a net-savvy, educated elite could dominate the political discourse and use these sites like an echo-chamber.
But the same could be said of newspapers: They certainly aren't free of interest but rely heavily on advertising; human interest matters more than serious reporting; again an educated elite perpetuates world views (otherwise there wouldn't be conservative and liberal papers) Which begs the question: Why not have 'democratic catalysts' of different political nature? The certainly is room for a conservative counterpart to reddit.