Prayer for the dying
The Sunday New York Times is here on our doorstep, as it has been just about every Sunday morning since we can't remember when. Certainly 20 years, probably more like 30.
It's the only dead-tree news product we pay to have delivered any more. The daily Times and all of the O went by the board a while back. We like the kids to see what a newspaper is like, but it's doubtful they'll ever read one regularly.
This report, from the FCC of all people, has gotten us thinking again about the decline of the local news media. It's a long read, but the super-condensed executive summary is here: "there is a 'shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting' that could lead to 'more government waste, more local corruption,' 'less effective schools' and other problems."
People say that all the blogging and aggregating that's being done will fill in some of the gaps, but as a person who's done a fair amount of all that, we don't see it that way. Bloggers without day jobs won't be blogging for long, and bloggers with day jobs rarely have the time to dig in and do the time-consuming work that real journalism requires when it's done right.
Consider this nice interview that a reader sent me a link to recently; about two thirds of the way down, the smart interviewee says this:
Bill Moyers: I remain indebted to those reporters who go where I can’t go, who talk to people I can’t reach, and come back. I’m still indebted to them. And as you say, you were spit out by the forces at work in the journalistic world. And now journalism is spitting out reporters like teeth.Scary, scary stuff. When I was a kid growing up, journalism was really hitting a stride, which culminated in bringing down Nixon. We were told the Fourth Estate would save us, and that it was important and needed constant protection, but we didn't listen all that carefully because it was so mighty that it seemed invincible.
David Simon: Left and right. You know, listen, I was not the last. That’s true. And it’s heartbreaking. And I say this with no schadenfreude just because I got a TV gig. It’s heartbreaking what’s happening, and I feel that the republic is actually in danger.
There is no guard now assessing anything qualitatively, no pulling back the veil behind what an official will tell you is progress, or is valid, or is legitimate as policy. Absent that, no good can come from anything. Because there is an absolute disincentive to tell the truth.
Bill Moyers: I read something you recently told The Guardian in London: "Oh, to be a state or local official in America" — without newspapers — "it’s got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption."
David Simon: Well, I was being a little hyperbolic.
Bill Moyers: But it’s happening.
David Simon: Yes. It absolutely is. To find out what’s going on in my own city I often find myself at a bar somewhere, writing stuff down on a cocktail napkin that a police lieutenant or some schoolteacher tells me because these institutions are no longer being covered by beat reporters who are looking for the systemic. It doesn’t exist anymore....
But it wasn't stronger than corporate greed. The bean counters and their mentality took over publishing and wrung every last penny they could get out of it, leaving news media so vulnerable that the internet dealt it what seems to be a mortal blow.
Let's hope -- however unrealistic it seems -- that it comes back, somehow, to some degree, from where it is now.