When embattled newspaper publisher Fairfax Media announced a drastic downsizing on Monday, the writer and comedian Wendy Harmer tweeted a warning to the online world.
"Hope all bloggers,commentators etc realise if there (are) no investigative journos, there'll be nothing to comment upon. Terrible times," she said.
It raised the question: if there were no news organisations tomorrow, could Twitter and Facebook take their place?
Fairfax's plan to sack 1,900 staff, downsize The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age broadsheets to tabloid size and close two major printing presses shocked the industry.
On Wednesday, News Ltd, publisher of newspapers including The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and the Herald-Sun, announced it would streamline its national, state and community news operations and spend up on pay TV and digital.
News did not give estimated redundancy numbers, which are rumoured to be up to 1,500.
Attention was focused on the death of newsprint after Fairfax chief executive Greg Hywood said the company would go digital-only if printing newspapers became unprofitable.
His counterpart at News Ltd, Kim Williams, said "print is not dead and has a strong future" but conceded that pay TV and digital were the growth businesses.
Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said he wouldn't bet on weekday newspapers existing in five years' time.
But concern over the future of "dead tree" media is only part of the bigger issue of the future of large media organisations worldwide, as they face what US media analyst Ken Doctor calls "the forced march to digital".
Mr Doctor says print advertising is "in a death spiral" and Australian newspapers' efforts to embrace digital "like most dailies in the US and Europe ... have been too little and often too late".
"So, now it's shock treatment time in Australia and much of the rest of the world."
Journalist and University of Canberra academic Julie Posetti says the rise of social media and citizen journalism will not replace professional journalism.
"Increasingly it's journalists that people within a social network will be relying on for quality, accurate information," Ms Posetti said.
"The democratisation of information is a fabulous thing but society still needs people who are able to sift and synthesise content in a way that makes sense.
"Increasingly I'm seeing the (news) content that's most prevalent on social media sites is originating with professional journalism."
Large media organisations can afford expensive investigative journalism and Ms Posetti says she is not convinced independent, online media startups can fill that position.
"Without journalists doing that work I think, as a democracy, we would be worse off," she said.
But there is no guarantee that big media organisations will remain profitable enough to continue their work: investment analysts were unconvinced by Fairfax's plans and the company's shares are still near record lows.
The challenge is making people - in particular young people who have never bought newspapers - pay for news they've been getting free online.
Roy Morgan Research media industry director George Pesutto says five years ago, 74 per cent of 14 to 24 year olds had read a newspaper in the past week.
Today the figure is only 52 per cent - a faster decline than the broader population.
But people are consuming media just as much as ever - via tablets, TV, computers and smartphones.
"The number of people reading news online, and particularly from our traditional media companies, is increasing," Mr Pesutto said.
Mr Pesutto says brand loyalty is usually low among younger consumers.
"And that's the challenge for the publishers - to sell the benefits of their brand ... and how to get them to pay for it".
News Ltd chief executive Kim Williams this week indicated future payment models: website paywalls, subscriptions for specific topics such as sport; and story-by-story micropayments.
But Mr Williams told ABC TV's 7.30 program that "in the physical world, a dollar is a dollar. In the digital world, that dollar becomes about 18 cents".
"So you need lots and lots of 18 cents, lots of piles of them in order to get back to that dollar."
Mr Doctor says digital news organisations, such as the Huffington Post in the United States, have demonstrated that online companies can take on the national agenda-setting role once occupied by newspapers, but coverage has been "spotty" at the regional level.
"In Australia we're seeing a partial vacuum being formed, and then we'll see who, and what, moves to fill it," he said.
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