Lots of talk in Blogland of late about this Wall Street Journal column, much of it stupid (the talk, that is), almost all of it predictable. So predictable, in fact, that I wish journalists who throw pitches like this — it’s about the impending death of ink-on-paper news — would learn a few sinkers and sliders and stop sending big fat slow ones over the plate. The writer, Paul Mulshine, takes a few unnecessary cheap shots at bloggers, which elicits the usual response: Wah wah wah someone said something mean about Glenn Reynolds how arrogant how MSM I can’t wait until they’re all dead wah wah wah, followed a few hours later by welcome Instapundit readers…
These side squabbles, which all seem to boil down to “he didn’t write it the way I would have, so I’m going to get on my new-media blog and whine about it,” distract from Mulshine’s message, which comes low in the piece, and isn’t talked about enough, i.e., who is going to do the boring work newspapers do when they’re gone?
…The writer in question (who covers mundane government meetings) is performing a valuable task for the reader — one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the “executive summary.” Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.
This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.
So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don’t expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won’t be able to do it either.
We touched on this last week in the comments, when our BFF Deb put it in much more pungent language:
there is something truly terrifying about these people who seem to think journalism is such a simple-minded enterprise that any fool with a notebook can do it. and how do i know this blogger in bumfaulk isn’t sleeping with the school superintendent, a disgruntled former employee with a penchant for firearms, a garden-variety whack job, a parent with a beef against the principal, or… and what will these folks do when the board decides to convene an illegal closed session? do they have a lawyer they can call? go right ahead, round up all these reporter wannabes. but when they don’t make it to the next board meeting because the streets were icy, or left early because the whole damn thing was just TAKING too long, don’t come bitching to me.
The other day Lawrence Lessig was on “Fresh Air,” talking about digital copyright ideas and related topics, and Terry Gross asked him about the future of newspapers. He skipped right over the newspapers part — he gets all his news from Google News, he said — and said that what worries him far more is the future of investigative reporting. This is a common lamentation among the intelligentsia: screw Dear Abby, what about investigative reporting? It drives me right up the wall, because it tells me the intelligentsia knows little about reporting. Maybe HBO could put “All the President’s Men” back into the rotation, so we could all refresh our memories of Watergate and take a lesson about the most famous journalistic investigation in modern history:
It started as a routine story on the police beat.
We forget that Bob Woodward wasn’t Bob Woodward back then. He was just some guy in the metro desk bullpen who had to work Saturdays. He got a tip and caught a break. The rest was just following leads, shoe-leather reporting.
Many larger newspapers maintain so-called I-teams, but the fact is, the best investigative reporting is like that — bottom-up. (If you know your local reporting staff, you’ll frequently find the beat reporter’s byline, along with one of the I-teamers, on big projects. The former knows the territory, and the latter knows how to work databases and other specialized reporting tools.) So when Lessig says he worries about who will support investigative work, I have to say I don’t. Some Gates-type foundation will arise to fund worthy projects, ones that will make all concerned feel virtuous at the annual banquet. There will be investigations on crime rates and welfare-to-work programs and the fate of the Pacific salmon. There won’t be too many projects about public-servant thieves like Kwame Kilpatrick, because those come from beat reporters keeping their eyes and ears open as they do the scutwork of the job — going to meetings so boring they peel paint from the walls, checking police blotters and court dockets, schmoozing secretaries and clerks.
That’s what will be lost when newspapers go away. Get to work, citizen journalists.
Not much bloggage today. The news seems to be taking the week off, too. Well, there’s this, an NYT story about the difficulty of ending your marriage in a collapsed real estate market. I don’t know why the strawberry blonde in the second photo made me think of “Lyin’ Eyes,” the old Eagles song. Just something about her. I bet she opened lots of doors with just a smile, back in the day. And the fact she says money from their multiple homes would be her only income. Time to get a job, hon.
More coffee for me.
Oh, wait! We have a holiday photo. It’s Beb, all tired out from reading his Fun Calendar, colonized by cats:
Now more coffee for me.