Friday, January 9, 2009

The News and Palin, Kennedy, Iraq, Lebanon, Hamas: They Just Don't Get It

"Five Things Google Could Do For Newspapers" in today's Wired discusses options from buying failing papers to reviving the classifieds. A sixth option, not rescuing traditional print media, gets mentioned in the second paragraph.

Newspapers Failing? Surely Not the Gray Lady!

The idea that what many still think is "America's newspaper of record" might go out of business isn't a crackpot notion. "End Times" (Atlantic (January/February 2009)) said there was a slim possibility that The New York Times might close around May of this year.

American newspapers, including the Gray Lady, seem to be in for bad times, and I'm not surprised. For one thing, too many people have discovered that:
  • The New York Times is New York City's hometown paper, with a rather parochial world view
  • Many of America's traditional information gatekeepers - including newspapers - are not entirely trustworthy

End Times! Bulwark of Democracy Crumbling!

Michael Hirschorn, who wrote "End Times" for The Atlantic,1 seemed quite worked up about the possible demise of The New York Times. The article's subhead is a pretty good summary:

"Can America's paper of record survive the death of newsprint? Can journalism?"

My best guess is:
  • The New York Times will be around ten years from now
  • Journalism is going to change
And, despite some rather breathless words early on, like "seriously damage the press's ability to serve as a bulwark of democracy"2, Hirschorn ends with:
"Ultimately, the death of The New York Times—or at least its print edition—would be a sentimental moment, and a severe blow to American journalism. But a disaster? In the long run, maybe not."

Change is Coming: Deal With It

Hirschorn quotes Fitch Ratings service:
"Fitch believes more newspapers and news­paper groups will default, be shut down and be liquidated in 2009 and several cities could go without a daily print newspaper by 2010."

Who's 'Killing The New York Times?!'

Depending on how much espresso some of the better sort have had, I can imagine them coming up with a number of suspects:
  1. The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
  2. All those
    • Right-wing bloggers
    • Moderate bloggers
  3. The Internet
Suspect #3 is, I think, close. The Internet, and information technology in general, is making an enormous change in how people share facts, opinions, and full-blown whoppers. That competition didn't exactly help newspaper sales.

On the other hand, I suggest a fourth suspect: traditional newspapers themselves.

I think a case can be made for viewing The New York Times as a hometown newspaper: and an insular one at that.

For generations the Gray Lady has given residents of New York City's boroughs news of their town, and of the world. All filtered through the world view of proper yankee gentlemen, and people who wanted to fit in. (More, in "The New York Times, Insularity, and Assumptions" (October 21, 2008)) As I said in that October post, "trouble comes when a person - or a news service - has a parochial point of view, and doesn't realize it."

Sloppy Procedure, Unconsidered Assumptions: That's No Way to Run a Paper

What seems to be killing The New York Times - and traditional journalism in general - is a sort of intellectual sloppiness. Last month, The New York Times published a letter from the mayor of Paris, France, who had some very strong views - about New York State politics.

Just one problem. The letter was a fake. The New York Times apologized, after France-Amerique broke the story: on its website. Turns out, The New York Times staff is supposed to "verify the authenticity of every letter" - but didn't in this case.

I can't help but think part of the reason for this SNAFU was that The New York Times staff considers the workings of New York State politics - specifically, the issue of "Caroline Kennedy's bid for the seat of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton" - something that would naturally be of interest to just about everybody. Even the mayor of Paris, France. And so, saw nothing odd about the message.

It's Not Just The New York Times

A documentary is scheduled for release in February. At this point it's called "Media Malpractice," and looks into the version of professional reporting that may have helped Barack Obama get elected. I think John Ziegler's got a point.

Publicity for the documentary includes an interview with Sara Palin. Among other things, the Alaska Governor said:
" 'When did we start accepting as hard news sources bloggers?' she asked. 'Anonymous bloggers especially. It is a sad state of affairs in the world of the media today - mainstream media especially - if they are going to rely on anonymous bloggers for their hard news information. Very scary.' " (FOXNews (January 9, 2009)
Those words about the "sad state of affairs in the world of the media today" are what got me started on this post.

Yes, Virginia, There are Real Reporters

Not all journalists have offices in Manhattan, write stories based on claims they find on right-thinking blogs and what their editors like to see, and learn what grassroots America thinks by hanging out at the nearest Starbucks. Some have been embedded with American troops in Iraq. Quite a few have been killed: and not, despite what some might expect, by American soldiers.

Those reporters, who know the difference between fact and opinion, and who know how to research a story, won't go away.

Although they may not be working for The New York Times.

Reporters, Bloggers, and Information Gatekeepers

I'm a blogger, but not an anonymous one. I do my research, and cite my sources: which are often articles from AP, CNN, Reuters, and even The New York Times. This isn't inconsistency on my part.

I prefer to assume that major news services don't have a policy of publishing inaccurate information. Their interpretation of the information may, in my view, be wack: but that's another matter.

And, I do what many reporters don't appear to: I track stories back, to as close to their source as I can. And, as far as I am able, verify the facts.

Goodbye Walter Cronkite, Hello Information Age

American newspapers, magazines, entertainment media, and academic institutions are this country's traditional information gatekeepers. For generations, reporters, editors, studio executives, and college professors had firm control of what the rest of us saw and read. And, they were the ones who, by and large, told us what we were supposed to think about what they presented.

That was then, this is now.

The Internet and other information technology has upset the gatekeepers' applecart. Today, "...just anybody with Internet access could get published. And heard." Quite a few bizarre ideas get published. But I don't think that they'll succeed in the marketplace of ideas.

America's traditional gatekeepers kept Americans from being distracted by people who believe that Nero was working for the Christians. But, they also made sure that what we read and saw of world events was 'properly' filtered.

'Properly' from their point of view, of course.

Many traditional gatekeepers are honest and, I think, sincere in their efforts to present a clear, accurate, view of the world. Just the same, particularly in the more 'intelligent' American subcultures, there's a set of assumptions that seems to demand - and get - more respect than others. Some of the major ones are:
  • America is
    • A racist oppressor
    • To blame for most of the world's ills
  • Capitalism is bad
  • Religion kills people
Quite a few bloggers and others on the Internet share these views. But there are others who don't: and they no longer have to go through the 'proper' channels to get their ideas published.

Palin, Kennedy, Iraq, Lebanon, Hamas: Traditional News Services Just Don't Get It

It's hard for me to shake the idea that some reporters and editors haven't quite gotten over the Vietnam War, aren't convinced that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat to Americans than the FBI, and really believe that Hamas is a band of patriots.

I'm glad to live in the Information Age, where it's much easier to find - and publish - alternative views.

George Washington, on Knowledge and Public Opinion

"Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essentially that public opinion should be enlightened...."
George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796
From Digital History, Gilder Lehrman Document Number: GLC 2557
Related posts: News and views: Background: Related posts, on censorship, propaganda, and freedom of speech.
1 Source:
  • "End Times"
    The Atlantic (January/February 2009)
2 Excerpt from "End Times:"

"...The collapse of daily print journalism will mean many things. For those of us old enough to still care about going out on a Sunday morning for our doorstop edition of The Times, it will mean the end of a certain kind of civilized ritual that has defined most of our adult lives. It will also mean the end of a certain kind of quasi-bohemian urban existence for the thousands of smart middle-class writers, journalists, and public intellectuals who have, until now, lived semi-charmed kinds of lives of the mind. And it will seriously damage the press's ability to serve as a bulwark of democracy...."
[emphasis mine]


Brigid said...

That, and I think people are starting to realize that 'unbiased reporting' is silly and impossible. Journalism had a lot of faults a hundred and more years ago, but it was a great deal more honest when it came to biases. If you wanted to hear the Republican side of things you picked up a Republican newspaper. If you wanted a Democrat opinion you picked up one of their papers.

Now journalists are trying to claim they're non-partisan and unbiased. The trouble is a lot of people have believed them for a long time.

Brian H. Gill said...


You're getting a bit deeper into philosophy and the nature of knowledge than most here, and I'm inclined to agree.

I rather enjoying the unabashedly biased articles in the Fargo papers, back in the late 19th and early 20th century, when there was that "Staunch Republican Newspaper" - self-described.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.