The National Catholic Review

The era of blog-chair journalism only grows more pronounced. The Washington Post essentially abandoned the rest of the nation this week, closing bureaus in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to concentrate its declining resources closer to home. Like a legion of other previously well-bureaued city dailies, The Chicago Tribune had likewise long ago given up the ghost on international and national coverage (I'm not sure they're covering Chicago anymore), relying on stringers, wire services and news syndicates to fill increasingly small editorial holes for national and global news. Nowadays everyone is attempting to gravy-train on the dubious express of user-generated content, which could be the coup de grace for a profession under siege by diminishing fiscal returns, stupendous self-inflicted wounds and gargantuan, ego-powered blunders (Here's to you Sam Zell and Conrad Black).

In a world of bloviating, rumor-mongering bloggers and haphazard, sometimes malicious iReporting by nonprofessionals is there any way for the casual news consumer to filter out the noise and manipulation and get something close to the truth of U.S. daily life anymore? (Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" is beginning to look like an improvement over current standards.) There have been some colossal problems within the profession in recent years (thank you, Judith Miller) and too many journalists have allowed themselves to be cowed into ineffectualness by the constant drumbeat of bias from the right, a contributor to the sorry performance of the industry during the "to war, to war, to war we're gonna go" prologue to the Iraq invasion. But I think overall, despite the calculatingly inflamed rhetoric of right-wing critics, most journalists (talking print here, not TV) actually do a decent job and provide a critical public service in fact-checking and synthesizing disparate events, pronouncements, studies and commentaries into something resembling a coherent narrative of reality. We're going to miss them when the Drudge-ification of the news business is complete, facts are opinions and no one is bothering to field reporters in not only the lonely places of the planet but even major metro locations of this nation.

Am I watching not only the passage of an era, but the end of a profession? Perhaps I am overly pessimistic. There are after all small shoots amid the decay. Take a gander at Voices of San Diego and Global Post; the Christian Science Monitor continues to do good work in its post-print form, and there's even reason to hope in Chicago's woe begotten mediascape. The new-born Chicago News Cooperative offers a vibrant and I hope successful adaptation to changing media realities. It's already marketing content to the NY Times, which may be tracking blood in the water near Michigan Avenue. Old timers will be forgiven for noting CNC's more than passing resemblance to the late lamented City News Bureau, now apparently retrieved from Chicago media's Jurassic era, dusted off and electrified on the internet. Good luck CNC. Just remember fellas: "If your mom says she loves you, check it out."

Comments

Michael Widner | 11/27/2009 - 9:05am
Martin, I can fully understand where you are coming from, but I have to take some issue with yur comments, only in the sense that there is no great conspiracy and there is no "Main Stream Media".
 
As I mentioned previously, my father worked in a three newspaper town.  His paper was considered "Democratic", but when it folded, he went to work for the paper that was considered "Republican", and yet, that newspaper and its "professional" journalists did their job and the "news of the day" was published.  The Editorial Page was the "Republican" part, but the newspaper gave us the "news".
 
In this day and age where anyone can publish anything and not check sources or facts, that is the "Main Stream Media" and it is a sad turn of events.
 
6294802 | 11/26/2009 - 4:07pm
The Brothers Karamazov... brilliant, Beth. Wait 'til you get to the part where Alyosha is sitting vigil in the monastery after his mentor passes... wow...
6294802 | 11/26/2009 - 2:20pm
I feel like Rip van Winkle lately. After five years in the seminary, I'm out and find that my former profession-journalism-is almost gone. Most of my colleagues are on unemployment and readjusting their lives.
This is bad for the nation because without professional journalists writing for regular papers and news services there will be very little actual news reporting for any site to post on the Internet. We have to refine this conversation: We're not talking about the death of newspapers here, we're talking about the demise of news reporting in general. And without the relatively unbiased news reporting that we've come to rely on from newspapers, few stories will be covered, few leads will be followed up and far too little critical information will come to light let alone be presented in a fair manner. I'm sort of afraid for the nation as what we'll be left with is blogging, which is essentially opinion-the Internet equivalent of the op/ed pages.
There is some hope if we think creatively and pragmatically. Some members of Congress have floated the idea of tax exemption for newspapers. This would do several things: It would keep people employed, which would be good, but more importantly it would ensure that stories get covered in the relatively unbiased manner we've come to expect from newspapers and do not find in the blogosphere where people with other jobs pretty much pontificate about issues in which they're personally invested in their spare time. That's not reliable. If tax exemption works and does prove a lifeline for the newspaper industy, we can be assured that news will continue to be covered by reporters with integrity who know their beats and cover the news for a living. That would ensure that we still can access real news online; the Yahoos and Googles of the world would still have something reliable to link to.
The only problem with this-from what I've heard-is that if newspapers were tax-exempt they would not be able to endorse candidates around election day. I like to read reasoned endorsements on Nov. 10 every year, but I think we could do with them for the greater good of continuing to receive news we can-more or less-trust the remainder of the year.
Paying for news online might work, but newspapers have been trying this for some time with very limited success. Tax exemption to save a very important, I'd say critical, American industry would provide a real shot in the arm quickly and may turn us from this very sorry path. If we don't do something soon, the newspaper industry will be gone soon.
Martin Gallagher | 11/26/2009 - 1:09pm
In the days before the internet, the sisters taught us about subtle newspaper bias - how the editors would phrase headlines, place stories, and not publish stories they did not want to feature.  The nice thing about the internet as that we can easily read mutiple news sources who have different political biases and compare and contrast those stories.  That is why I don't see the problem with the Drudgereport.    He just links to stories from different news outlets who have the ultimate responsibility for the content.  Drudge just identifies stories (usually that support a conservative viewpoint) that are not featured (intentionally or unintentionally) by the mainstream media.
 
Now if I could only find a secular news service (politically liberal or conservative) that did not have a bias against the Church.....
 
 
 
Michael Widner | 11/26/2009 - 9:23am
My father was a "newspaperman" (he disdained the term "journalist") for over 50 years.  He's been dead for 14 years and in that time I'm sure he's rolled over in his grave any number ot times.
I-reporters, bloggers, et al...  too much "opinion" too many "non-professionals" (which in intself isn't a bad thing)...  Journalism isn't dead, but it is certainly dying.
 
Beth Cioffoletti | 11/25/2009 - 6:33pm
I hope that America will soon make its publication available on the Kindle.
 
I was slow to come to the Kindle.  After all, I could read whatever I wanted online.  IT was only when someone gave me a Kindle (which I planned to give to my son for a Xmas present) that I realized that I liked reading on this gadget.  More than I liked reading online.  Maybe it has something to do with not being back-lit.  Maybe it has something to do with not being distracted with so much going on, on the web.  Maybe it is the small chunks of text that I can control, and digest at my own speed.  Dunno.
 
But I now pay $12 a month to read the NY Times on the Kindle rather than reading it online for free.  For my whole life I have never been able to get more than 20 pages into Dostoevsky's "Brothers Karamozov", and now I am reading it compulsively on the Kindle.  Go figure.  I feel like I am reading with more comprehension on my Kindle than I ever read from a book or a computer screen.
 
Things are changing.  There is no lack of people wanting to read well written thoughts and stories.