Super Cities №143 — Munger on Newspapers and Wisdom

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Charlie Munger on the decline of newspapers (2014)

The role that newspapers played in this country has been absolutely remarkable. The Fourth Estate functioned for decades like another, almost better form of government in which many newspapers were run by people of the highest ethical standards and a genuine sense of the public interest. With newspapers dying, I worry about the future of the republic. We don’t know yet what’s going to replace them, but we do already know it’s going to be bad.


The world is awash in poorly reasoned opinions. Everyone has one, and many of them have the stench of incoherence. We’re not exactly reading The Federalist Papers.

Regardless of their claims, the average person doesn’t know much about trade agreements, the judicial appointment process, or exchange-traded funds. Nearly half of Americans do not know which political party controls the House of Representatives.

And guess what? That’s fine.

These people — everyone’s neighbors — spend their time working and caring for their families. They don’t have time for LIBOR.

That’s why, historically, newspapers played such an important role. With the public interest as the guiding force, newspapers — particularly local ones — reported current events, held accountable those in power, and created a set of generally-accepted facts.

Compare that day-to-day work, done by paid professionals, with how Twitter operates. If newspapers are boring but stable, Twitter is chaotic and unreliable. The other social networks are just as bad.

The world’s information is within reach, but that doesn’t make people smarter or wiser. On the long path to information abundance — more of it, faster, causing an emotional response — there’s a tremendous opportunity for products and services that provide better information.

Call it newspapers 2.0.

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