Modern journalism has become more about the sizzle and less about the steak. It has fallen victim to sensationalism and a hijacking by the liberal elite. Long lost among most journalists is a sense of unadulterated mission, ethics, balance, and professionalism.
The Media was never supposed to be The Message.
The confluence of ubiquitous bandwidth and an unquenchable fervor to exercise our First Amendment privileges that has become the blogosphere has like hot lava flowed into the vacuum created by the demise of the flabby, flatulent print media conglomerate, and has taken what’s left of it.
Oh that, and Craig’s List.
The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question 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.
Assuming anyone reads that stuff…with interest…and we all know bloggers that have already seperated themselves from the legions that run their keyboards “for free”.
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.
In his 1920 essay “The National Letters,” Mencken traced this sentiment back to the early days of our democracy. He noted how first Ralph Waldo Emerson and then Walt Whitman prophesized the rise of what Whitman termed “a class of native authors, literatuses, far different, far higher in grade than any yet known.” Mencken was pessimistic about this prospect thanks to what he termed “the democratic distrust of whatever strikes beneath the prevailing platitudes.”
I share that pessimism. Every time a new medium arises, a new group of avatars arises with it, assuring us of the wondrous effects it will produce for our democracy.
Maybe so, but when the news isn’t news anymore meets declining ad revenue via competition and declining credibility via overarching liberal ideologies, discarding the Kersten’s and the Coleman’s is too little too late. The Dailies aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
Relevance is like innocence; once lost, tough to repossess.
Bloggers rarely adhere to standards superior to those long since discarded by traditional outlets, but they seek not to delude the reader otherwise.
When my colleague at the Newark Star-Ledger John Farmer started off in journalism more than five decades ago, things were very different. After covering a political event, he’d hop on the campaign bus, pull out a typewriter, and start banging out copy. As the bus would pull into a town, he’d ball up a finished page and toss it out the window. There a runner would scoop it up and rush it off to a telegraph station where it would be blasted back to the home office.
At the time, reporters thought this method was high-tech. Now, thanks to the Internet, a writer can file a story instantly from anywhere. It’s incredibly convenient, but that same technology is killing old-fashioned newspapers. Some tell us that that’s a good thing. I disagree and believe that the public will miss us once we’re gone.
We’ll know if that’s true soon enough.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve watched a parade of top-notch reporters leave the Star-Ledger for the last time. The old model for compensating journalists is as obsolete as the telegraph. If anyone out there in the blogosphere can tell me what the new model is, I will pronounce him the first genius I’ve ever encountered on the Internet.
That, my friend, is yet to be determined but it will surely be a product of a recipe that will include equal measures of free expression, innovation, and free enterprise.