The most bizarre thing about the John Edwards scandal may be that infamous tabloid The National Enquirer actually broke the news long ago and the mainstream media ignored the story until last week. Is it any wonder so many old-school media companies are in such a sorry state?   

To its credit, a New York Times article acknowledged that news agencies (including its own) lapsed, only picking up the story after Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC got Edwards' interview (and admission of the affair). The article also included what struck me as a litany of lame excuses from media companies including CBS (NYSE:CBS), Washington Post (NYSE:WPO), and The New York Times itself.

Scorn for The Enquirer seems the underlying theme. Granted, it's hard to take seriously a genre that occasionally covers "news" like werewolf colonies, potatoes that resemble Elvis, or chickens that can peck out Greensleeves in Morse code. The Enquirer is also known for paying its sources, which journalists frown upon (for good reason).

Still, there's major hypocrisy here. The media often regales us about scandals in public figures' "private" lives. The antics of Paris, Britney, and Lindsay are often covered with far more depth than much more serious current events. And what about all the TV programs where somebody hollering about sensational topics passes as news? Whatever happened to world news explained in a calm manner?  Crazy, I know.

Media companies' hard times -- as audiences flee to the Internet for more plentiful and diverse content and advertisers find Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) an effective alternative -- seem to have led to a race to the bottom, which doesn't exactly set the stage for growth or even survival. For similar examples of the Internet's disruption, consider how digital piracy forced the recording industry to play ball with innovator Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), or physical booksellers' difficulties with e-commerce powerhouse Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) around.

Speaking of the Internet's influence, News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Wall Street Journal admitted in an article that Internet sources The Drudge Report, Washington Post's Slate, and the Huffington Post "recognized the possibility the [Edwards] story might be true and questioned the old guard's inaction."

Uh-huh. The "old guard" might want to open its eyes, or the future of news may be pretty bleak -- probably mostly for its own industry, and of course, for these companies' long-suffering shareholders.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.