Whatever one thinks of phone hacking, it seems odd that Britain is going through a convulsion of soul-searching about media barons just as potential oblivion confronts the press because of the internet.
Rupert Murdoch urged Lord Justice Leveson last week not to put “regulations in place which will mean there will be no press in 10 years to regulate”. He predicted the newsprint era would be over within 20 years and said some believed it could be gone by 2017.
Mr Murdoch, it must be said, has deepened the crisis by permitting lax standards at the News of the World, then closing it in a panic. After 40 years it is late in the day, though, to worry about his influence: the question is whether future digital moguls will be so powerful.
Parts of the national press are coping. Aside from the NoW, there has been no wave of closures. The Mail’s online edition is the world’s most visited newspaper website, according to analyst comScore, while the Financial Times has 285,000 digital subscribers. The Telegraph titles are profitable and Mr Murdoch’s Times and Sunday Times have cut their losses.
The local press, however, is a scene of woe. The number of regional daily titles has declined from 109 to 84 since 2002, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, while the Newspaper Society estimates almost 200 titles have closed in the past decade, including weeklies.
Johnston Press is turning dailies in Halifax, Peterborough, Scarborough, Northampton and Kettering into weeklies, with fears for 12 more. Trinity Mirror’s Liverpool Post and Birmingham Post have gone weekly, as have Northcliffe titles in Lincolnshire, Exeter, Scunthorpe and Torquay.
Backbench MPS are alarmed: without local papers, they will surely sink into even deeper obscurity. There is a threat to local democracy too, since bloggers and tweeters are less likely to put in long hours of reporting at the local council, let alone have time for investigation.
Louise Mensch, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, proposes direct or indirect subsidies for local papers. Mr Murdoch and the Newspaper Society have suggested tighter restraint on the BBC, whose online operation competes with local newspapers and their websites.
Perhaps these things might help, though it is hard to be optimistic. Sadly we are in for an era of patchy and chaotic coverage in whole swathes of the country.
A big blond threat
Which would be worse for David Cameron on Thursday, a victory for his great rival Boris Johnson in the London mayoral election or a defeat? Either way, it does not look good for the prime minister.
The view in Downing Street is that a BoJo victory, the likeliest result, would be the least worse outcome. A defeat would deepen the mood of crisis after the shambles of recent weeks. Worse still, Mr Cameron and George Osborne would get the blame if the Tory right’s favourite were brought down by Downing Street’s problems.
A victory, on the other hand, would mean that Mr Johnson is ensconsed in City Hall for another four years, putting off a potential return to the Commons, from where he would be a visible threat.
If Mr Johnson wins, however, despite the national handicaps, that too has adverse consequences for Mr Cameron. The mayor will be even more a hero to the Tory grassroots – a true king over the water.
As Mr Cameron stumbles, he is perhaps lucky so many potential rivals or successors have had troubles of their own. On the right, Liam Fox was brought down over the Adam Werritty affair, while David Davis scuppered his chances in opposition with his bizarre resignation to fight a by-election over civil liberties. William Hague seems to have no appetite for another go at the leadership.
Among modernisers, Jeremy Hunt is fighting for his career, while Mr Osborne has damaged himself with his trouble-ridden Budget. The dark horse, perhaps, is Michael Gove.
Whatever the result on Thursday, Downing Street will view Mr Johnson even more warily than before.
Sign of the times
It seems appropriate that someone called Adam Smith resigned on the day that official figures indicating a double-dip recession raised fresh questions about the working of the market economy.
Get alerts on Leveson inquiry and phone hacking scandal when a new story is published