Wednesday, February 25, 2009

what we lose

More on the potential demise of the San Francisco Chronicle, this time from the horse's mouth (which may or may not be the best source.) Read it and weep right here.

I did, even though I posted the news yesterday. But what struck me today were the comments to today's piece posted online. Reading those, I realized there is a third rail in the rapid implosion of the news industry. And that is the sheer and utter ignorance of the people journalism is designed to serve with regard to:

The work involved in putting out a newspaper -- whether on paper or screen. Not for nothing have newspapers been called a "daily miracle."

The difference between editorials and news. Or for that matter, the difference between editorials and editorial decisions.

The mission and mindset of those who put it together. Do you really think that folks who work long hours for lousy pay and have nothing going for them but their name and reputation are going to purposely tank a story?

And most important, WHY journalism matters.

This is not just about the Chron. (Read what the WSJ had to say here.) Whether you loved it or hated it or referred to it as the San Francisco Comical, this is about news in general and what we lose when, you'll pardon the cliche, we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

And what we lose when a major U.S. city loses its voice. (sure, we have the but check it out.) Or when that voice, as has been rumored, might be taken over by MediaNews' Dean Singleton, who has singlehandledly presided over the near-destruction of the San Jose Mercury News.

I blame us: reporters, academics, parents, readers -- folks who could have and should have passed on an appreciation for the importance of journalism and how the job gets done, folks who should have been looking forward instead of back.

Maybe for the rest of us, what's left to do now is call people out for their ignorance and cynicism:

When people say they don't pay attention to the news, from any medium, show them the same disdain you might if they said they don't believe in reading books.

When people say they don't trust the news because it's too biased toward the left or the right (pick one), give them an education on the work it takes to gather the news, and that for a reporter to purposely get the story wrong is like a professional basketball player purposely missing a layup.

When people say that citizen journalists can fill in the void, ask them why they trust the guy down the street to cover a school board meeting at his kid's district -- rather than an education reporter with no vested interest in the outcome of the story.

When people say they can find what they need online, ask them if they know the difference between oreos and broccoli, how they will vet the credibility of what they find, where the reporting that underlies the blogs they may be reading comes from, and, most important of all, how much time they have. Staffs of editors, that's plural, work long days to find and vet what appears on the screen or in the paper on a daily basis. Who's going to put in that amount of time at the computer after a long day of work?

When people say we can leave the national and international news to a few big guns like the New York Times and leave shrunken dailies for hyperlocal news, ask them what happens if the one watchdog gets it wrong (hello: war in Iraq?) -- or how long they used to let that free "hyperlocal" neighborhood weekly sit in their driveway before they threw it unread into the trash?

When people say shrug and say "whatever" when the paper shrinks to the point where there are no features whatsoever, or the few that remain are all from the wires, ask them who will provide a record, as Will Durant put it, of life on the riverbanks. Ask them if they want to read a review of "Milk" written by Suzy from Ohio.

I'm sputtering. The point is, when things go away -- like a cup of decaf in the afternoon at Starbucks, or a Mother's Cookies Taffy Creme -- they rarely come back. There has been a lot of talk, here and elsewhere, of a new and improved news media rising from the ashes of the old. Today, i am not so sure. bk


Lotta K said...

What do you think is the relationship between TV news and newspapers, content-wise? And, has it changed?

barbara kelley said...

well, i think even the worst newspapers still trump local news. in terms of national news, probably a draw. it seems they feed each other, too. bk

Joe P. Tone said...

Something will fill the void eventually. I'm not sure it will be better than what we once had, or even as good; the business environment may never be as profitable. But something will fill the void. The demand still exists.

tk said...

Greta rant!! If only the idiots who talk about the "liberal" or "Conservative" mesdia would realize FIRST OF ALL, media is a plural noun. The media are varied and include the gasbags they listen to on the radio who are spouting truly slanted filth.
I say ask them (politely) what medium they are referring to and what article, program, etc. Also have them give you one example of slanted media. OK, not politely. Go get'm, journalists!!

Jack said...

When I was a metro reporter, TV news constantly stole my enterprise stories. Nothing's changed; if anything, it's gotten worse.

geewhy said...

Don't get me wrong, I don't want newspapers to go away. I think people will realize how vital they were once they're gong. And like Joe, something will fill the void, eventually.

But let's not get too nostalgic here. Most daily papers were/are amazingly bad and utterly tone deaf.

I love newspapers. Always have. But part of it was complaining about how bad they often were.