March 15, 2009
This post linked to a couple of other really good discussions of the problems newspapers are having right now. In some cases the problems are of a sufficient magnitude as to be terminal. It inspired this thought from me:
I think another source of problems for newspapers has been the traditional firewall between reporting and business. Certainly there was a legitimate reason for the firewall, but it had negative consequences as well.
Some reporters did reporting which offended readers, or offended advertisers. It was accepted that honest reporting sometimes required doing so.
But in recent decades a new generation of journalists has arrived, starting shortly after Watergate, who saw this kind of offensiveness as being a goal. This is the "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" "Speak truth to power" esthetic that holds sway now, and it's seen by this new generation as being a path to virtue, fame, Pulitzer prizes, and rich book contracts. This is the rise of agenda journalism. The new generation of reporters sought to use journalism as a way of improving the world. And they calculated their effectiveness by listening for the screams.
When your newspaper is effectively a monopoly, offended customers and offended readers have no recourse but to continue to deal with you, so there was little consequence for the reporters. The money still flowed in and they still got paid. Indeed, agenda journalists took pride in the fact that they didn't concern themselves with business consequences; it was a demonstration of their dedication to truth and social good.
Over years that built up a significant percentage of both customers (advertisers) and readers who were primed to move to something new once it became available. With the internet, they now have that alternative, and they are leaving in droves.
These are the people who, in public opinion polls, answer "Good riddance" when asked about the pending demise of newspapers. And there seem to be a lot of them.
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At Chizumatic, we take pride in being incomplete, incorrect, inconsistent, and unfair. We do all of them deliberately.
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