Thursday, January 24, 2008

Can blogging save journalism? Part I

". . . Americans being the biggest cowards on the planet. . ."
- One Night at the Call Center by Chetan Bhagat (Indian novelist)*
". . . a bellicose nervous-nellyism is now a major part of our identity in the eyes of the world" writes US journalist James Fallows. Fallows points out that if Americans come across as wimps, it's organizations like Fox News that have rendered the American people ill-informed, ignorant, and ultimately, fearful to the point of idiocy (just listen to the Republican presidential candidates attempt to scare up support for their campaigns: Al Quaeda couldn't buy this kind of publicity!).

I believe symptoms of the decline in quality journalism range from the Bush presidency and the whole Iraq war fiasco, to the current global financial meltdown. David Simon*, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, views the city where he worked in the 80s and 90s as a case study in the lost art:

So in a city where half the adult black males are unemployed, where the unions have been busted, and crime and poverty have overwhelmed one neighborhood after the next, the daily newspaper no longer maintains a poverty beat or a labor beat. The city courthouse went uncovered for almost a year at one point. The last time a reporter was assigned to monitor a burgeoning prison system, I was a kid working the night desk.

Soon enough, when technology arrived to test the loyalty of longtime readers and the interest of new ones, the newspaper would be offering to cover not more of the world and its issues, but less of both -- and to do so with younger, cheaper employees, many of them newspaper-chain transplants with no organic sense of the city's history.

In place of comprehensive, complex and idiosyncratic coverage, readers of even the most serious newspapers were offered celebrity and scandal, humor and light provocation -- the very currency of the Internet itself.

Charge for that kind of product? Who would dare?

An intelligent society faced with our present predicament would likely decide that support for quality journalism is at least as critical as promoting higher education. And we know universities and libraries pay society back indirectly, so they are widely supported. We do not expect these institutions to make a profit. Why should journalism be different?
*Simon, now executive producer of HBO's "The Wire," wrote this outstanding firsthand account of the decline in quality journalism in a US city. It was published in the Washington Post.
*Longer extract of this book is available at the blog of James Fallows.

1 comment:

  1. I'm halfway through season 2 of The Wire, it is outstanding.


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