Thursday, May 18, 2017

My [Small] Place in the Journalism World

Lewis DVorkin wrote a column for Forbes titled As Digital Journalism Evolves, The Scoop Still Defines Newsroom Values. In this column, DVorkin tackles the issue of traditional news media’s contraction in the age of the internet and social media. As he observes, “I’m watching a once monolithic news industry break into pieces.”

The journalistic establishment hates this new trend. The New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Paul Mulshine probably captures the establishment’s resentment in a 2008 article for the Wall Street Journal. In All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper, Mulshine—who, for the record, is a great reporter whom I have a lot of respect for—blasted bloggers. Here are a few excerpts:

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.

The common thread here, whether the subject is foreign, national or local, is that the writer in question is performing a valuable task for the reader -- one that no sane man would perform for free. He is assembling what in the business world is termed the "executive summary." Anyone can duplicate a long and tedious report. And anyone can highlight one passage from that report and either praise or denounce it. But it takes both talent and willpower to analyze the report in its entirety and put it in a context comprehensible to the casual reader.

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren't doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they're under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.

So if you want a car or a job, go to the Internet. But don't expect that Web site to hire somebody to sit through town-council meetings and explain to you why your taxes will be going up. Soon, newspapers won't be able to do it either.

The death of newspapers and other traditional news outlets, like magazines—not to mention investigative journalism—seems to have been greatly exaggerated. As DVorkin writes:

FORBES, soon to turn 99 years old, has both gravitas and digital scale, with 45 million domestic monthly visitors to Forbes.com, as measured by comScore. We achieved that feat with a bold concept–marrying a tradition of reporting with a now 1,800-strong network of contributors [“citizen journalists!”]. Staff writers do what they do best: report the news and ferret out information, both for FORBES magazine and for our website. Our expert contributors primarily publish online, attracting audiences with insight, context and analysis.

The FORBES model for journalism in the era of social media has disrupted time-honored thinking. Our belief in sound journalism is still very much here. [Emphasis added]

If you can’t beat them, join them—and prosper in the bargain. A “bold concept,” indeed!

Some traditional journalists may condemn the new so-called “citizen journalism”; i.e. bloggers. They may resent bloggers terribly, claiming that bloggers could never replace the hard working traditionals who actually go out in the field and do the hard work of uncovering and gathering the news and the facts. And it’s true, as Mulshine points out, that bloggers can’t replace investigative journalists. I know I can’t—and I have no inclination to devote the time and effort of doing so. Reynolds is wrong: Not just “anyone can do this stuff."

Mulshine is right. But as it turns out, Mulshine’s point is beside the point.

Forbes has proven that it doesn’t have to be either-or. Traditional journalists continue to provide the meat and backbone, the “scoop”, and thrive—at least those working for progressive news outlets.

But why should the traditional journalist be the only one to do the analysis? Isn’t the purpose of journalism, beyond earning a living, to inform the public and foster analysis and debate? Isn’t blogging just an extension of that? As long as the blogger gives due credit to his sources, citizen journalism is a big plus, in my view. I’m not on Forbes’s expert contributor list. But I do have my own blog, in which I offer my own “insight, context and analysis.” I have written articles and blog posts for The Objective Standard. It’s a fun hobby and I love having the opportunity to engage in intellectual activism, even while giving the traditional journalists I reference a little wider exposure. I think it’s win-win.

To be fair, Mulshine wrote All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper in 2008, so he may not hold the same opinions today.

Anyway, kudos to Forbes for flourishing by embracing the new realities. I’ve been a Forbes subscriber (and, for that matter, a Star-Ledger subscriber) for decades and will continue to be for as long as I can breath. Thanks, Forbes! And thanks Lewis DVorkin. You’ve identified and validated the common citizens’—and my—place in the journalism world.