The zombie lives, this time in an op-ed in the WSJ from the Newark Star-Ledger’s Paul Mulshine, who conflates the shout of “Copy!” and the pounding of six-part carbons with some golden age of “real” journalism that the modern internetses are killing:
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.
Why are newspapers disappearing? Those damned bloggers in their pajamas:
The problem is that printing a hard copy of a publication packed with solid, interesting reporting isn’t a guarantee of economic success in the age of instant news. Blogger Glenn Reynolds of “Instapundit” fame seems to be pleased at this. In his book, “An Army of Davids,” Mr. Reynolds heralds an era in which “[m]illions of Americans who were in awe of the punditocracy now realize that anyone can do this stuff.”
No, they can’t. Millions of American can’t even pronounce “pundit,” or spell it for that matter. On the Internet and on the other form of “alternative media,” talk radio, a disliked pundit has roughly a 50-50 chance of being derided as a “pundint,” if my eyes and ears are any indication.
The type of person who can’t even keep track of the number of times the letter “N” appears in a two-syllable word is not the type of person who is going to offer great insight into complex issues.
I agree with this: It sucks that journalists are losing jobs and that newspapers are failing. But the marketplace of ideas is not a zero-sum game. And just because the author seems to have run across an inordinate number of people who are unable to pronounce the word “pundit” that’s no reason to dismiss the whole of the blogosphere, as he does.
And it’s a sham argument anyway. I’d bet that a sizable percentage of any newspaper’s readership is equally idea- and spelling-challenged. The leaders of the social media movement are no more average members of the rabble than are the ink-stained wretches Munshine beatifies here. Reporters, pundits, thought-leaders — whether in print or pixels — become who they are because of the value of their skills and ideas, not the medium they choose to disseminate them.
The bigger question is this: who will do the reporting, and who will pay for it? If newspaper companies get smart about business models and stop trying to prop up the old institutions of ink and paper, there’s a very good chance that they will survive. But they will survive in a world where Reynolds and others have an equal share of the voice, assuming the quality of what they’re saying is high enough to warrant attention.
Robert Ivan saysDecember 27, 2008 at 6:24 pm
God I loathe these types of dismissive posts by old media pros who -hate- on bloggers instead of contributing to constructive discourse.
Solitude saysDecember 28, 2008 at 10:12 am
I will miss the old media about as much as I miss;
Slide rule manufacturers
Lamp oil distributors
All of those are gone too.
Justin Palk saysDecember 29, 2008 at 10:56 am
Did you actually read the whole article? Mulshine isn’t blaming the death of newspapers on bloggers, he’s blaming it on falling ad revenue: “The real reason [newspapers are] under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.” His critique of bloggers is more a question of whether they’re going to live up to the hype and start sitting through local town council and planning meetings without being paid.
Renfield saysDecember 29, 2008 at 11:00 am
As an “old media pro, ” I have no nostalgia for the good old days of dictating stories from phone booths in the middle of nowhere. Nor do I disagree that the business model of newspapers (as well as network tv and radio) is obsolete and ruined. To tell the truth, the national media’s affection for today’s designated crap narrative that has little to do with reporting is something I look forward to missing. But I believe Mulshine’s point, which true believers in the “wisdom of the crowd” willfully overlook, is that the unglamorous day-to-day fact-based reporting that informs citizens, like his paper’s recent exposes of financial abuses in the Rutgers football program, is not likely to be done by anyone who isn’t being paid to devote large chunks of skill and time. So far, no one has developed a way to provide this essential service of letting people know what their government is doing. A partisan hack like Reynolds muttering “heh” provides little but comfort to those who agree with him. Westbrook Pegler did that sixty years ago.
Tim Windsor saysDecember 29, 2008 at 11:06 am
I did read the whole thing – and make the same point myself at the end. I was simply choosing to focus on one aspect of his column that I found particularly egregious. The link from Romenesko, however, sets up expectations for my post that it was never intended to fulfill.
The bigger problem with guys like Mulshine, though, is this false competition he sets up between “newspapers” and “the internet.”
I’d have thought by this point we could at least agree that newspapers and the internet can and must be on the same team if we’re going to keep the business of journalism a going concern.
Jim J saysDecember 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm
“Trope,” indeed. Here Mr. Windsor employs that favorite trope of the blogosphere, the Straw Man.
Mulshine didn’t blame the demise of the old media on “Those damned bloggers in their pajamas.” Quite the contrary; I don’t know a single newspaper person who blames anything but their own industry’s missteps for their current predicament.
Mulshine is merely pointing out the obvious fact that very few amateur bloggers are going to be able to replicate the type of full-time reporting that’s needed to maintain the press’s watchdog role. I’m absolutely positive this blog will not be able to.
The vast majority of blogs, including this one, rely on mainstream media to provide links and original source material, mostly to complain about. And that’s just the sites that aren’t based completely on intellectual property theft, such as HuffPost and YouTube.
Charles saysDecember 29, 2008 at 12:53 pm
You gotta love this:
The link from Romenesko, however, sets up expectations for my post that it was never intended to fulfill.
Oh, I see: As a blogger, you can’t be held to the same standards as a “real” journalist (say, one of those old media types)? You can just babble on and not expect to be accountable in any way? This is PRECISELY where the new media fails.
As a print journalist who has written plenty for Web sites, I see much good in the new — and admit it’s inevitable that it will replace the old, for better or worse. The “for worse” part is what the WSJ columnist was trying to address — that too much of this online stuff is done on the cuff and that too few online journalists are willing to tackle the difficult challenges of being thorough and timely all at once. Print journalists make plenty of mistakes, but I’m betting it’s pretty rare you’d see one complain about problems resulting from too many folks reading one of their articles. You put it out there — often on very tight deadlines — and you live with the consequences…
What4 saysDecember 29, 2008 at 1:28 pm
Newspapers may or may not be dying, but blogs WILL die if they consist largely of this kind of bickering in the absence of real discussion.
It is a very grave change for a democracy to lose so many trained reporters. Nobody else knows how to watch government the way reporters do, and it is unlikely that bloggers will be able to replace them.
Bradley J. Fikes saysDecember 29, 2008 at 1:57 pm
As a reporter at a print newspaper, I certainly hope newspapers find a new path to profitability. However, it won’t be found by the likes of Mulshine bragging about the greatness of reporting, boasting about Pulitzers nobody outside the Church of Journalism cares about, and belittling the unwashed masses who don’t appreciate journalists’ heroic work.
Bloggers gained credibility by correcting errors in the most respected news outlets. If you want to know about the real estate meltdown, for example, you are far better off with Calculated Risk than the error-filled coverage of the New York Times. Mulshine would better serve his profession by confronting this unpleasant fact than by circling the wagons with the other journosaurs.
David Cay Johnston saysDecember 29, 2008 at 2:56 pm
Since you agree that Justin has a point, how about addressing it seriously. Examine Mulshine’s concerns that local governments will not be covered. Mulshine may have a point and he may be dead wrong, but you go off on a tangential issue that the posts here indicate makes some people feel good about the woes of journalism, but who offer little or no indication that the coverage of local government will continue in any serious way .
The op-ed column was not so much a bemoaning of how Creative Destruction is eliminating reporting jobs as araising the issue of the value of observing/watchdogging/reporting on government, especially local governments, which he asserts is at risk. Will we get cities and counties and school boards that are less accountable? What is the effect of not having newspaper reporters (and they are usually newspaper reporters, though now and then they may be from local radio or TV) on the costs, and quality, of local government? Will bloggers sit through these boring sessions (and sift through boring paperwork) and comprehensively cover local government? Will bloggers replace them? And will they do the scut work or just opine and pick issues out of context?
Where I live many local governments now get only cursory coverage and evidence abounds that this lack of coverage is enabling the politically connected to loot the public treasury (see my book Free Lunch for examples nationwide). Digging into the paperwork of some local agencies I find there is much more taking from the many to deepen the pockets of the few who hold sway over local governments than I ever imagined. Requests for basic records are fought. Police are sometimes used to keep critics outside of official meetings or to remove them—and I am talking here of perfectly peaceful assemblies. The local sheriff produces no data for analysis of his operation, just a glossy 88-page report asserting what a glorious job he says he is doing, a sort of campaign brochure paid for by taxpayers.
The issue is whether a mechanism will arise to cover local governments and keep the disinfectant of sunlight on officials or they will be free to operate in the shadows and, if so, what this means for life in America. So, please, take on that issue in a thoughtful and rounded way.
paddyo' saysDecember 29, 2008 at 3:35 pm
Thanks to What4 for stating what I’ve been trying to say to anyone and everyone who’ll listen whenever the subject comes up about my leaving the newspaper business and its decline . . .
I’m a 30-plus-years veteran dead-tree-pulp news guy who took a buyout a year ago and am thankful (but still sad) that I’m out of the business.
I am way past shedding tears for the demise of printed-on-paper journalism, but I am seriously concerned about the loss of the newspaper/newsmagazine/wire service reporters and editors that the demise represents. Not the “institutional memory” of veterans leaving (or being canned and laid off) and young’uns trying to steer the wobbly ship. I’m simply talking numbers. Who will keep up the watchdog role (however imperfectly it is sometimes applied) and the daily business of journalism, from school board, cop-shop and city hall to Congress, corporate halls, public streets and other arenas of ideas and, well, news?
I love blogs and I love newspapers — and I don’t equate the two. Tim’s right when he says the corporate overlords of media need to figure out a way to make online (or whatever succeeds it in the dim future) pay for real, full-time, trained reporters and editors to do this still-essential and necessary job.
I’m glad for the bloggers who keep “us” honest (sorry, I still feel a part of the old career), but until bloggers are making enough income to employ legions of researchers, reporters, writers, editors, etc., I can’t accept them as the successors to newspapers and their staffs. Only a handful of them are. Most good blogs are the equivalent of op-ed pages. On occasion, some of them are the equivalent of one-person investigative teams.
Except for freelancers and for a vastly smaller universe of TV and radio reporters and producers who can’t possibly make up for the rising losses in the newspaper ranks, there’s no one else out there to perform this critical function.
THAT is what is so worrisome today.
Jim saysDecember 29, 2008 at 4:25 pm
Online media vs. dead trees, citizen bloggers vs. professional journalists, creating your own experience online or receiving the Daily Miracle on your driveway or doorstep, wherever information comes from or we go to get, let’s not overlook the other key Mulshine point: how does it get paid for? Does Timwindsor.com make money? Or Huffpost? How will Web sties, twitters, facebook pages be supported? Advertising is one model, continued venture capital infusions may be another. But how sustainable is it all? Skipping over snarky putdowns over spellings, who’s got that answer?
Tee Em saysDecember 29, 2008 at 4:58 pm
Thank you, Jim, for redirecting us to the real issue.
This bloggers vs. old media hacks nonsense is … nonsense. The message is the message, not the medium, and we old hacks have never particularly cared whether the message is on paper or on the Web or painted on the walls, as long as it gets out there. I’ve never yet heard a reporter tell his/her employer to keep a story off the Web because it’s too “new media” or because they don’t want to be equated with bloggers in pajamas. If every newspaper on earth declared an end to print tomorrow and put everything on the Web, there wouldn’t be a mass exodus from the industry. In fact, there would probably be rejoicing — IF there was an economically viable way to do it.
The problem is, there isn’t. Not yet, anyway. And I, for one, would be willing to sacrifice my salary in the name of good Web-only journalism if, in exchange, the utility companies would waive my fees, my landlord would cut rent to $10 a month, and colleges would give my kids full scholarships. In the meantime, forgive us for needing money.
Donasaur saysDecember 29, 2008 at 9:14 pm
“But [newspaper companies] will survive in a world where Reynolds and others have an equal share of the voice, assuming the quality of what they’re saying is high enough to warrant attention.”
Yes, but face the fact that when it comes to journalism, Reynolds’ product will almost never be able to equal that of a professional newspaper, or even of a high enough quality to warrant attention. Many times over my 47-plus years as a newspaper reporter I’ve said to someone outside the profession that the part of the job J-school never teaches is standing in the rain for eight hours outside the home or office of someone at the center of a running story, day after day, without the door ever opening, except perhaps when a spokesperson comes out to say “No comment.” Who is going to do that without the certainty of a paycheck? And how about stories that involve sending two or three reporters to Europe or Asia for months on end — will a blogger ever be able to provide that sort of coverage?
The bloggers I’ve read (and there haven’t been that many of them) tend to sound like a bunch of people swapping stories at the bar, where bloviation and exaggeration and tough talk count as much as certifiable facts.
Still, I’m optimistic that an acceptable and honorable form of journalism will survive. It’s just that the readjustment will take a lot of time, and will cause a lot of men and women a lot of pain before we get to where we’re going — and I have serious doubts that dependable coverage of local government agencies will ever exist as it was a generation or two ago.
timwindsor saysDecember 29, 2008 at 9:41 pm
It’s great to have so much discussion around this – even if so much of it is to say how absolutely wrong I am.
But I can’t get over how often the conversation seems to want to get to a pros vs. pajamas POV. Who has ever said that bloggers can replace journalists? Except, in strawman arguments where it’s convenient to set up such fake tensions, the statement just hasn’t been made with a straight face.
That’s my beef with Mulshine. He’s taking a very real problem – the need for newspaper companies to rebuild a broken business model – and trivializing it with a weak attempt to pick a fight with the very online world he’s going to need as a part of that business model.
I love journalism. Newspapers, I can take or leave. If we can save newspapers in some form, great. But the first priority should be keeping newsrooms alive and functioning. How that news is delivered – electronically or in print – should be a secondary consideration, divorced as much as possible from sentiment and tradition.
timwindsor saysDecember 29, 2008 at 10:00 pm
Again, precision is everything with written communication. I did not set out in this post to solve the industry’s problems. I set out merely to touch a sharp needle to what I saw as an over-inflated balloon of pomposity in one particular WSJ op-ed.
Previously, though, I have tried to get the discussion going around bigger ideas:
A proposal for a network ad model
A proposal for creating a “sales and deals” beat
A discussion of Martin Langeveld’s proposal to cut print frequency to save the business
A proposal to rethink the local news product mix for a major metro /
A discussion of how my old organization made decent money creating local, long-form video
Five simple, cheap ideas to increase engagement with local audiences for news organizations
Four ideas to help fix the classified problem
My soapbox: journalists need to become better curators of their beats
Jay Rosen saysDecember 29, 2008 at 11:43 pm
The subhead on Mulshine’s column was: “Bloggers are no replacement for real journalists.”
I want to echo what Tim asked and see if we can get an answer: who ever said bloggers can, will or are about to replace journalists, particularly on-the-ground reporters? Who in journalism? Which blogger? Which author? Please, tell me: who? Who said it, and who believes it? Where in blazes does this (strange) notion come from, in such strength that it has to be refuted endlessly? And I do mean endlessly, as the pattern–journalists lining up to dispute a claim they cannot find anyone making–does not appear to be ending or even slowing. Mulshine was so desperate he had to seriously misuse a Glenn Reynolds quote about pundits to make his point about irreplaceable reporters.
My take: Mulshine’s column has nothing to do with bloggers. He put in his references to the bloggers to rope in the Romenesko crowd, and get their blood moving. It worked. Bloggers aren’t the cause of the economic problems in journalism, bloggers certainly aren’t the cure, and blasting the blogosphere, which Mulshine boasted about at his blog, will not do a single thing to move newsrooms toward a business model that can sustain them.
The fact that we do not know what that model is, and where it’s going to come from is a big problem, an unsolved problem, and the consequences of not solving it–if we cannot–are going to be substantial.
The sad part about it is that Mulshine is just waking up now to a collapse that’s been apparent for at least four years, and instead of educating himself about it, his “contribution” is blasting bloggers and distorting quotes to make it seem like someone out there is seriously asserting that bloggers can replace reporting staffs.
They can’t. They won’t. The only people who talk about this are old media journalists looking for someone or something to resent. An idea that only exists when it is being refuted isn’t worth arguing about.
Renfield saysDecember 30, 2008 at 10:04 am
Yeah, Yeah, Mulshine’s a provocateur. And Glenn Reynolds is irrelevant. And lots of people have jobs bloviating about the future. But no serious person believes that bloggers will become reporters. The problem is that journalism has a vastly expanded audience and no viable economic model. To reference a prior post, it’s as if demand remained steady for slide rules, but nobody wanted to pay for them.
Steve Yelvington saysDecember 30, 2008 at 10:42 am
OK, let me try a different angle.
Let’s assume that bloggers can’t and won’t “replace” old-fashioned L.C. Smith-pounding fedora-wearing chain-smoking pavement-pounding reporters.
The changes that are going to happen are going to happen.
They’re not happening because of Glenn Reynolds or Jeff Jarvis or any of the schadenfreude gravedancers. They’re not happening because of Tony Ridder or Gary Pruitt or any of the mossback curmudgeons in the southwest corner of the newsroom who refuse to write for the Web. The causes are much bigger and the effects much broader.
Neither bloggers nor pros disintegrated the newspaper model, separating classifieds, retail advertising, content and delivery into separate products.
Neither bloggers nor pros marginalized the value of wire news, comics, crosswords and whoever subs these days for Dear Abby.
Neither bloggers nor pros destroyed the local retail advertising base, replacing it with big-box stores and Walmart.
Neither bloggers nor pros took on excessive debt to roll up hundreds of independently owned newspapers into megachains.
Neither bloggers nor pros wrecked the global economy, killing local real estate markets, leaving local car dealers to put up brown paper in their windows instead of sale posters, prompting employers to lay off thousands of people right before Christmas.
The pros-vs-pajamas “debate” is a comforting place to go — often for both sides — but it’s irrelevant and stupid.
Paul Mulshine saysDecember 30, 2008 at 5:57 pm
Jay Rosen asks:
I want to echo what Tim asked and see if we can get an answer: who ever said bloggers can, will or are about to replace journalists, particularly on-the-ground reporters? Who in journalism? Which blogger? Which author? Please, tell me: who? Who said it, and who believes it?
Read my article. Glenn Reynolds used a quote to that exact effect in his book.
“When enough bloggers take the leap, and start reporting on the statehouse, city council, courts, etc. firsthand, full-time, then the Big Media will take notice and the avalanche will begin,” Mr. Reynolds quotes another blogger as saying.
This is what I hate about the blogosphere. it’s not merely that peoples are too lazy to report. They’re too lazy to read before they comment. Half the discussion on this thread could have been repevented by simply reading the column in question.
Bradley J. Fikes saysDecember 30, 2008 at 8:04 pm
Mr. Mulshine, do you have any clue just how pompous and insufferable — not to mention ill-informed — you sound to the “peoples” not in the Church of Journalism?
You slammed the entire blogosphere with one ambiguous quote. Contrary to your claim, the quote says nothing about replacing journalists; it seems to predict how Big Media will react to the intrusion of bloggers onto their domain.
Even if your point were valid, using it against the blogosphere as one entity is as meaningful as drawing conclusions about the Washington Post by reading the National Enquirer, because they’re both part of the printosphere.
Had you thought through your analogy, you could have “repevented” your mistake.
Tim saysDecember 30, 2008 at 8:57 pm
From JD Johannes, who Mulshine unprofessionally quotes but does name or link:
“I do not know why Mr. Mulshine did not give my name. A news man of his esteem would have surely googled me and found that I was doing exactly what he says bloggers are not doing …”
Tim saysDecember 30, 2008 at 9:03 pm
Moron Perspective Alert
Paul Mulshine commenting above failed to follow the simple instructions for comments and has thus self-identified as a moron. Also, the substandard spelling (“repevented”) and grammar in the comment show that it is unlikely that Mulshine ever reached minimal standards for even a beginning journalist and has been carried by editors. The comment thus confirms my conclusions about the low level of discourse by self-proclaimed professional journalists.
Bradley J. Fikes saysDecember 30, 2008 at 10:48 pm
Tim, thanks for that link to the information Mulshine didn’t want us to see. And thanks to Mr. Johannes for alerting us to Mulshine’s distortion.
Mulshine evidently didn’t count on his distorted quote being swiftly debunked — so much for his understanding of the Internet or bloggers.
Does Mulshine have the honesty to admit and apologize for his errors? Does the Wall Street Journal?