I’ve heard it said that newspapers are in the business of cutting down forests and delivering them to our doorsteps.

I don’t even want to think how many trees have been sacrificed to catch me up on the news over the course of my lifetime. Even when I was in college and none of my friends read the paper, I had home delivery. Today, I read paper versions of the Star, the Citizen (for as long as it lasts), the Sunday New York Times, the Tucson Weekly, and, of course, the Explorer — not to mention an assortment of weeklies that find their way into my mailbox.

I’m not sure my morning coffee would work without a pile of newsprint on my lap.

But I’m part of an aging minority who still depends on a daily printed paper to get the news. Across the country, long-standing papers are falling like leaves in autumn. The question is not whether dailies will become a thing of the past, it’s when. Sometime in the foreseeable future, the idea of a morning newspaper on your doorstep will sound as quaint as a town crier in the public square.

The question is, what’s next? What new forms will step in to fill the void when the daily newspaper is gone?

Cable news can’t do it. Each day, CNN, MSNBC and FOX recycle the same dozen stories ad infinitum, stressing the sensational over the newsworthy. That’s not going to change. It’s built into the nature of an audio visual medium. Television can’t present a hundred stories to choose from, then let you skim through the ones you’re interested in. It has to spend a few minutes talking you through each story, then move onto the next.

To get a wider view of the news, you need the printed word.

That’s why the online world is the obvious next step for people who are serious about the news. The internet supplies an almost infinite amount of information and enough words to fill a dozen libraries. And it’s all available with the click of a mouse.

The problem is, we’ll need dependable online news outlets, those we can trust to present us with a reasonable approximation of what’s happening in our community and the world. I don’t buy the National Enquirer at the supermarket to find out what’s going on, and I’m not going to trust just any website to give me reliable news.

One possible model is Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer, which no longer prints a paper. It’s trimmed its staff back to 20 reporters who produce a digital edition. It looks like your typical online daily, but without the printed version. They hope online advertising will generate enough revenue to pay the staff. We’ll have to wait and see how that works.

Closer to home, four reporters who had worked for the East Valley Tribune in the Phoenix area formed an online news source, The Arizona Guardian, which covers the goings on at the state capitol in exquisite detail. They’ve gone with the subscription model. Some stories are free, but for the rest, it’s pay-to-play.

An idea still in its infancy is what could be called an alt-daily, where the work of an assortment of independent reporters, columnists and bloggers, many of whom have web presences of their own, is gathered together at one convenient location. Readers can link to what interests them. If the site adds national and world stories from a news service like AP, it can become a reasonably complete news source. This model could be the wave of the future.

We may end up with a variety of digital options, or somebody may hit on the one great idea no one has thought of. But the day will come when the stack of newsprint on my lap that accompanies my morning coffee will be replaced by the warm pressure of my laptop.

Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.

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