Sunday, July 13, 2008

Fourth Estate Checks Tyranny from Other Three

I believe in journalism. I believe in the Fourth Estate. I believe that there can be no open and free society without an active and vibrant press.

And I'm worried.

Because journalism looks quite ill. Gravely ill. It's always been a business about shedding light, but now there is not much business left. And without the dollars, the light goes out.

My wife forwarded me an article from Time magazine titled "The Nightly News, Not-for-Profit."
The newspaper industry is in a bad spot. Actually, run a correction on that statement — newspapers are in a "time to panic" spot. The business model is collapsing, ad dollars are disappearing, newsprint prices are at a 12-year high and the Internet is just giving news away for free. On July 2, the Los Angeles Times announced it was cutting more than one-sixth of its newsroom staff; the Tampa Tribune said it would cut 20%.
These are huge cuts just 11 years after I graduated with a degree in journalism. The work is just as important as ever -- even more important than ever given the current state of American affairs.

The Time article outlines that problem that investigative reporting is slow and minimally productive in terms of column inches. It's exactly investigative reporting that we need now.

The Internet has fueled the 24-hour-news cycle that makes it more important to have new news than to have solid news. I attribute most of the failings of journalism during the past decade to the rush to publish.

I firmly believe that Watergate could not have happened today. No editor has the resources to turn people loose for that long.

And bloggers are well meaning, but most are like me and have a day job that gets most of the attention. How many bloggers have time to do real in-depth investigative reporting?

We're in trouble if this ship sinks the rest of the way. And any talk of a new business model is just about that: dollars. The truth does not get mentioned very often.
As Duke University economist James T. Hamilton puts it, "Newspapers used to be owned by people who were willing to trade off profits for the notion that they were doing the right thing." And with profits disappearing, doing the right thing is becoming increasingly important.

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Anonymous Alan said...

I'm not saying that newspaper cutbacks are a good thing. However, bloggers can sometimes break major news stories, as when Josh Marshall cut to the core of the Bush Administration's U.S. Attorney firing scandal. Here are some links:

Columbia Journalism Review article on Marshall's role:

Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" blog

9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Newspapers are no longer run by journalists, just as radio stations are no longer owned by broadcasters... business speculators are now in charge. Income is used to acquire yet one more newspaper or one more radio station... not to hire more or better reporters... not to make their end product more useful to the reader/listener. Audiences dwindle and revenues follow. I hate government regulations but if the government can support dairy prices to keep dairy farms profitable because "we must have milk", why can't someone think about ways to support the vital local news industry?

10:26 AM  

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