It is our fault

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post issues a resounding apologia for journalists in the American Journalism Review, arguing that the fall of newspapers isn’t their fault. Then Roy Greenslade leaps up with a resounding hear! hear! They echo a defense earlier this year from Adrian Monck (who had decreed, “The crops did not fail because we offended the gods”).

Though I respect these three men, I must call bullshit.

The fall of journalism is, indeed, journalists’ fault.

It is our fault that we did not see the change coming soon enough and ready our craft for the transition. It is our fault that we did not see and exploit — hell, we resisted — all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented. It is our fault that we did not give adequate stewardship to journalism and left the business to the business people. It is our fault that we lost readers and squandered trust. It is our fault that we sat back and expected to be supported in the manner to which we had become accustomed by some unknown princely patron. Responsibility and blame are indeed ours.

Farhi’s rationalization on behalf of his fellow journalists makes many bad assumptions and blind turns and Greenslade only follows him down those alleys, piping in with (my emphases follow) an “unhesitating answer” of no to accusations of journalistic guilt. “There cannot be any doubt that journalists themselves … cannot be held responsible for either the financial woes of the industry nor for the public turning its back on the ‘products’ that contain their work.” He piles on: “They are blameless.” They have “no reason to feel guilty…. It isn’t our fault…. The truth is that we are being assailed by revolutionary technological forces completely outside of our control…. We journalists are not [his emphasis] paying the price for our own (alleged) failures…. you are not the cause of the current calamity.”

The hack doth protest too much.

Farhi assumes that a newspaper is a well-defined product that is no longer supported by classified and retail advertisers and that’s not our fault. He acknowledges that newspapers should be updating their sites, adding Twitter, social networking, Google Maps, and more video. But he ignores the greater need and opportunity to rethink and reinvent journalism itself.

The internet does not just present a few glittery toys. It presents the circumstances to change our relationship with the public, to work collaboratively in networks, to find new efficiencies thanks to the link, to rethink how we cover and present news. No, the essence of the problem is that we thought the internet represented just a new gadget and not a fundamental change in society, the economy, and thus journalism.

By maintaining the newspaper and its newsroom as essentially static entities, Farhi also makes the common and dangerous assumption that their budgets are also fixed: They are what they are because they always have been and so that’s what they need to be. So it’s not their fault that they need to be supported at that level. But newsrooms are terribly inefficient and too many of their expenses were fueled by ego. We bear business responsibility. That is why I am teaching business in a journalism school, so we can be better stewards.

Farhi glosses over — in an unjournalistic way, I’m afraid — the state of the business and its relationship with its public. He brags that almost 50 million Americans still buy papers and so, he argues, readership is not the issue. But circulation is down more than 14 percent since 1970 and since then population has risen by 50 percent, so the adjusted loss is 74 percent. If steady, circulation should be 92 million today. Penetration is roughly half what it was: a mere 17 percent vs. 30 percent. I’d say our relationship with readers is a problem — in more ways than one: A Gallup survey says 52 percent of Americans do not trust news media, up from 30 percent in 1972. Are the two tied? Of course, they are. Who’s responsible for that?

“The critics have it exactly backward,” Farhi says. “Journalists and journalism are the victims, not the cause, of the industry’s shaken state.” Victims? As Farhi says to the critics, “Oh, please.”

Victimhood is an irresponsible abdication of responsibility, a surrender. He might as well declare newspapers dead: Oh, well, we did our best, but everybody around us fucked up and so they’re going to go away now. How dare they do this to us?

My purpose in rebutting Farhi and Greenslade is not to beat up journalists but instead to empower them. The reason to take responsibility for the fall of journalism is to take responsibility for the fate of journalism. Who’s going to try to save it if not for journalists? We are indeed responsible for the future of journalism and we have about one minute to grab that bull by its horns.

(This is why I am holding a conference at CUNY on new business models for news. There is not a minute to waste.)

  • “Victimhood is an irresponsible abdication of responsibility, a surrender. ”

    Oh please, Jeff. I simply don’t have the words for how silly a statement that is. Whether you agree with Farhi et al or not, the idea that being a victim of circumstances and saying so is basically just whining is, as you put it earlier, “bullshit”.

  • Walter Abbott

    You have it pegged, Jeff. Newspapers (or as I prefer now to call them – paper information distribution systems – PIDS) should have seen this coming many years ago but chose to do nothing about it.

    I’m reminded of the losing football coach who complained of a snowy field causing his team’s loss. The problem with that excuse is that it snowed on both ends of the field…

  • Well, the three legged stool of print journalism — reader, publisher and advertiser — is not available online. That’s the basic problem. Journalists are about as creative and flexible as people get. They can adapt if there is a new business model available. Right now, their is no alternative business model available. Advertising is inadequate, and its going to get worse.

    We’re all searching for the alternative. There are success stories available from people who have used online journalism to sell books or video. Some have used it to sell conferences. The Zuora product supports subscriptions, as does Amazon’s Kindle. My new product allows direct payment between audience and publisher. We’ll see.

  • I do not believe it is black-n-white as suggested.

    Journalists are guilty only partially.

    That journalism did not immediately jump on the wagon of emerging glimmering and stylish web2.0 blogging and aggregating websites, which presented alternative points of view, opinions and news is not sufficient to hold journalists guilty or backwards. Journalists could not have abruptly abandoned their own established ways and follow suit new trends on Internet because of their recently rising popularity. On the other hand, journalists must be accountable for the fact that after having glimpsed the new developments in the domain of information procurement and sharing and realizing how much potential those held, many of them were slow to adapt or kept clinging to their old ways.

  • Ian,

    And bullshit back to you.

    The internet gives journalists incredible opportunities to change and improve and grow the field. Sitting back on their fat asses and whining is irresponsible. They did abdicate that responsibility. Whining does no one any good. The last decade of history in the business of newspapers well proves that.

  • But they (editors, writers, publishers) thought the Internet was “like CB radio – a passing trend.” (Editor who actually said that little number is now presiding over a paper chain in bankruptcy proceedings.) They had absolutely NO idea what they were talking about as they had about as much a clue to “the Internets” as did W.

    They (editors, writers, publishers) simply never used it. Guess they were too busy to do so. But really… they were never the least bit CURIOUS about it all; merely dismissive in the worst possible way, yet felt compelled to pontificate about it all from on high. Constantly. Forever spinning, in this case, real gold into utter bullshit.

    The demise IS their fault, and it is also a crisis of very snotty, ridiculous leadership. I have not the least bit of pity for any of ’em.

  • Mike

    Might it also have something to do with the fact that the newspapers and news media in general serve their corporate overlords instead of actually reporting on what’s happening?

    I say this based on two things:

    1) the corporate media has been less than worthless in reporting on our ongoing economic nightmare. Anyone who is or wants to be well-informed on this issue is going to the economic blogs in what is shaping up to be the seminal event of our lifetimes.

    2) Whenever some scandal breaks [Larry Craig comes to mind] the professional journalists come out and say that they’ve known about it for some time.

    Well, if you knew about it, why didn’t you report it? That’s your job. This isn’t an issue of reporting scandal for its own sake. It’s an issue of credibility which is ultimately what journalists sell. When Larry Craig talks about “family values” I imagine the press laughing up their sleeves since everyone is in on the joke- except the public, of course.

    But it seems like protecting access is far more important to reporters than actually digging for a story.

    If I care about what lies get spouted at some press conference or about what people living in half-million dollar houses do as a lifestyle, I can get that information without spending 75 cents for the privilege.

    Generate some meaningful content and people will buy your product. Regurgitate statements and offer fluff and your industry will continue to die.

  • Andy Freeman

    > Well, the three legged stool of print journalism — reader, publisher and advertiser — is not available online.

    Yes it is (available that is). However, the readers don’t seem to value publishers all that much. Or rather, they don’t value publishers of walled gardens. And the advertisers go where the readers are, regardless of publisher.

    BTW – It is interesting that the “stool” doesn’t have editors or authors.

  • Andy Freeman

    Why is “who is guilty” relevant?

    What difference does it make whether journalists caused the fall of newspapers or were correct all along but nevertheless were sucked down with the ship?

  • The issue with newspapers is trust in my opinion. Back in the day they reported the news, now it is always being interpreted. Sure advertising volume is down, but if they offered an exceptional product it would still be bought, albeit in a different format.

    But when I read the New York Times and have to slog through interpretive journalism being portrayed as objective journalism, it is hard to trust it when it comes to the business or sports section.

    Jeff, you have nailed the head that journalism should be going local. But the small outlier papers have fired so much of their staff that all they can do is regurgitate wire copy. They are killing themselves.

    I am positive that their are niches in small cities right now for a hyper local daily paper that would be profitable, even if it did not charge a subscription fee.

  • Jeff – As entertaining and provocative as ever. The point I was making way back when, was that many journalists (and their critics) are quick to explain the decline of newspaper circulation and broadcast news ratings in terms of ‘moral failure’ by journalists and journalism.

    Let me reverse your proposition. Would you explain the rising number of newspaper sales from the late 19C to the mid-20C by pointing to the quality of the journalism being produced and the journalists churning it out? I think I would start with urbanisation, population growth, literacy, industrial process innovation, distribution etc.

    If you honestly think journalism was more important than any of those, then go ahead – make the case. Because it’s exactly the same – as we British would say – ‘arse-about-face’ case you’re making above.

    There are strategies for success in declining markets. The Washington Post is repositioning itself as an education company. Journalists and news execs are not passive players in the economy, but neither are we the cause or the drivers of changing patterns of entertainment and information consumption.

    And if you want to look at newspapers relationship with readers don’t crank out trust! Trust in media is positively correlated with consumption, so it pretty much tells you what you already know.

    There will be winners and losers ahead, but in aggregate, I’ll bet you there will be fewer people reading newspapers in the United States in five years time than there are today.

    But judging by current news, there will still be more readers than investment bankers…

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  • Ken

    Jeff, you provocative SOB. As usual, I agree with about 95 percent of your assessment. The other 5 percent isn’t worth quibbling over.
    You have, however, provoked me into working on my own analysis, which is too long for a blog comment and is still mostly rattling around in my brain. I’ll send it your way when (if) it spills out onto the floor.

  • Jeff – the last sentence is key: “We have about one minute…” Why are other’s throwing in the towel. Its bad, but its not too late. Giving up now would make these journalists whiners AND defeatists. One is bad enough, but both?

    I hope you succeed in convincing enough of them to really grab the bull by the horns. After all, as a news reading, news loving public, we NEED them.

  • I agree with you that journalists share part of the blame for the failings of journalism, but I also think business staffers share in that blame too. This point is missing from your post.

    You can’t blame journalists for broken business models, and you can’t blame business staffers for an out-of-touch editorial product. As out of touch as I think many journalists are with the realities on the ground, I think the same can be said of business staffers. In what ways have they innovated?

    How come advertising staffs don’t have a clue on how to sell ads on the Web? How come advertising staffs are still bundling print and Web ads together?

    Ultimately, it is publishers and owners who are most to blame for this mess. They are the ones who are supposed to provide both leadership and budgets. If they said 10 years ago, “look we’re transferring 50% of our resources over to the Web,” it would have gotten done.

    I would also say that editorial leadership is another failing area. Many top editors understand the Web and the future of journalism less than the lowest editorial staffers. That’s a serious problem.

    You don’t get into a mess this big with only part of the puzzle not fitting together. No, it’s all messed up.

  • With apologies for the horrible grammar and typo in my previous post. it’s not me, it’s the iphone. I abdicate all responsibility.

  • The premise that “journalism” is one thing and that “journalism” failed “journalism” might be the source of some of this confusion. The reality is that the establishment — mostly the newspaper crowd — just isn’t good at online.
    It’s a different discipline, requires different training and business acumen. And sometimes newspapers get it right, but mostly online companies get it right — the Googles, Yahoos, CNets, etc.
    If A-rod went and played free safety for the NY Giants, perhaps we would see a performance not unlike when the print paradigm tries to compete online… with some exceptions, it just doesn’t work.

  • Andy Freeman

    > I agree with you that journalists share part of the blame for the failings of journalism, but I also think business staffers share in that blame too. This point is missing from your post.

    Again – why does it matter?

    > You can’t blame journalists for broken business models, and you can’t blame business staffers for an out-of-touch editorial product.

    Yet, both will be out of work.

    None of this navel-gazing will help you figure out what to do.

  • Overall – I agree with this post Jeff.

    One thing that I often come back to, however, is that newspapers aren’t a conscious being. They didn’t “make a decision” to ignore the internet.

    But – as institutions they were organized or structured in such a way so that they couldn’t do anything to pivot and transition in response to the internet.

    I don’t blame individual reporters or editors. I blame the structure of the institutions in which they worked. It was akin to a military organization: Top-down where people couldn’t make unique decisions and the hierarchy was always followed.

    As a result – you are right, it is “our” own fault. But I don’t think the “our” in this case are individual people making bad decisions. It’s a result of an institutional structure, based on 20th century models that simply couldn’t adapt.

  • Mike H (a consumer)

    Why should I pay for something that is consistently slanted toward one side of the political spectrum – be it willful or through collective group-think and a “we’re on safari” view of anyone whose ideas don’t align with east- or west-coast metropolitan memes? You’ve gotten to the point where I assume virtually all news “product” has the same basis and goal. I’d prefer to read DNC press releases from the original source, instead of with all the fluffy bunnies added by so-called journalists.

  • Maia Szalavitz

    Many journalists *did* adopt the web early (I was online in 1990, before there was a web). We wrote for pioneering web publications (anyone remember Feed?). We blog. We get lots of attention sometimes. And WE DON’T GET PAID.

    Or if we do, not very much. Which is fine if you are dashing off an opinion piece that doesn’t require any time or reporting. Big blogs make money by NOT PAYING for the content which surrounds their ads. True, some are hiring reporters– but mostly they rely on free labor of opinion journalists, which feeds off of newspaper, magazine and book content (AKA stuff that writers actually get paid to do) for things to discuss.

    That’s not sustainable in terms of producing the reported news and complex analysis that is needed– and vanishingly few can do in-depth reporting that way. I am one of the few people who manages to do so– with help from a fellowship and book writing. But if newspapers, magazines and books died, there’d be precious little to blog about.

    Blaming journalists for this is like blaming laid off computer programmers for outsourcing.

    You can blame editors and managers for not seeing the web coming– but you can’t blame the writers who did so but were blasted by a business model which massively increased work while decreasing pay.

    Today’s world is highly specialized– it’s ridiculous to blame people for having on specialty, not another.

  • Adrian,
    Forget about newspapers as a product. Think of it in terms o f journalism as a service. There are so many ways to update this service but it was held back by thinking as a product. The analogy to a century ago is: Wow, look at this great new thing coming out – cheap printing. Look at what we can do with that! Let’s have at it! What amazing opportunities!
    That’s not what I heard. You?

  • So, let me get this straight: You earn your living preparing students for paying jobs (with benefits) that aren’t going to be there when they graduate? That is a great racket.
    And it’s journalists’ fault that managers missed the boat on Craigslist and eBay, giving away Classifieds franchise? Or that no one of the great minds that once led us could figure out a way to cull some trickle of revenue for newspaper content on the web from cash-flush, new-media aggregators and providers?
    That kind of brilliant, incisive thinking reminds me of the Chandler trust fund morons who were convinced that the LA Times circulation drop was the result of liberal journalism. They never worked for a living, much less in journalism, but they were experts.
    Mark Pinsky

  • Paul from Florida

    I have been an addicted newspaper reader all my life.

    The writing is boring, less so now, but too late.
    The writers are clueless. They cover crooked, backstabbing, who is going to do who and who’s wife is getting on the payroll story as if everything is on the up and up.
    I have to go to a bar to find out what’s ‘really going on, who’s in, who’s out’.

    The reporting is at best poor, or a lie. For example, the local school has the standard school laying off staff dog and pony story before the school budget comes up. The concerned parent is quoted that her kid is going to shoot junk unless the viola program is fully funded. No mention that the parent is the wife of a teacher. So, I call the paper about their water carrying. It’s as if I am talking about Martians.

    Another example. A bartender dies tragically. The bars get together and raise $75k for his daughter. Story uncovered. Why? Because it wasn’t processed, spoon fed and the journalists are all dreaming about moving to some urban hip loft .

    Talk radio. Totally filling in the back story. No, zero, zip tie in. Ignored it like the Internet.

    Another example. No 24 hour hot line, hot line duty for a staff member. News happens from 10am to 2:30.

    By the way, papers are getting better, but I don’t see anyone under 35 reading the local. In ten years, no one under 45.

    Craigslist. It’s a killer. I go to the locals classified, it takes five page clicks and works out as well as a gun permit in the Soviet Union.

  • Mark I Pinsky,
    I teach a course in entrepreneurial journalism so they can run their own enterprises.

  • As someone who was taught that curiosity and investigation were essential skills and principles for a journalist, it seems bizarre to me that even today, we can be defending journalists and writers who do not look at blogs, social networks, microblogs etc.

    And more importantly, given the state of the business, why are journalists not using their skills to build contacts and analyse those with successful online models, and then use their communication skills to transfer that insight to the marketing and advertising teams?

    It’s not rocket science.

    I agree with @Maia that it is extremely hard to equal a reasonable wage with a career purely in blogging. But not only do a growing number of people manage it, but that wage level is far, far higher than most people get when they start in journalism.

    And a blog, microblog, website or other outlet doesn’t have to be a replacement for a career – it can be a tool to demonstrate how a different approach can work. I can think of very few business people who are upset when an employer figures out a way to make money, and presents it as a complete solution.

  • Stan Hogan

    How utterly frustrating and predictable it is to see the same old boilerplate dropped into the latest “we suck” drivel about the newspaper industry.

    Here’s some cold-hard reality: Newspapers jumped online at the earliest opportunity with varying degrees of ferocity. They were swept along in the Shit River that is the culture of free and are now drowning in that refuse.

    We devalued our product and allowed it to become the fodder that drives the Internet, with minimal payback.

    Imagine for a moment if we had treated our “content” as though it had equal value to what we put into its gathering. We do not throw it out to the world for free, or for the small percentage of our revenue generated mostly by value added sales. What kind of a business model is that?

    Imagine if all newspapers saw the folly of a free online news model and worked on an all-advertising online model. Sorta like Craigslist, I guess.

    We gave away the store and we’re paying the price yet the conventional wisdom seems to be that we did not give it away quickly enough.

    Remember the late ’90s when we were all swept up in this Internet thing? Fools rushed in with piles of cash, throwing it at the holy grail called content. They mostly withered and went away but we stood fast, giving away our content for a slow death.

    Yes, we didn’t move fast enough online. Stick with that 1990s thinking, it’s working great.

  • Robert Pondiscio

    I’m calling bullshit on your calling bullshit, Jeff. Back in the early 1990s, at about the same time you were starting up a print product, Entertainment Weekly, a dozen or so of us over at Time Magazine became the first magazine — and one of maybe 4 or 5 print products anywhere — to put its entire contents online. At the time, AOL, our host for this endeavor, had 250,000 subscribers and was a scrappy upstart, trailing the mighty CompuServe and Prodigy (remember them?).

    There’s a lot of revisionist history that says print fiddled while Rome burned. It’s not true. It’s a useful fiction though, because the reality is even more depressing than the “print missed the boat narrative.” What no one wants to acknowledge is that there is something about mainstream print brands that in an overwhelming majority of cases, has simply failed to translate into digital media. You can point to a lot of reasons for that, but you can’t say “it is our fault that we did not see the change coming soon enough and ready our craft for the transition. It is our fault that we did not see and exploit all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented.” Many print journalists did. We were talking about that more than 15 years ago. Your point about whining is well taken; as for who’s a victim, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but who cares? The market is a harsh mistress.

    At the end of the day, journalism will undoubtedly be just fine. Perhaps we’ll have a smaller number of people willing to pay a premium price for a premium product. Perhaps the undifferentiated mass will get an undifferentiated (advertising supported) product. But as long as there is a need for reliable information willing to pay a price, directly or indirectly, there will be a market for journalism. There’s no point in being sentimental for existing print products (not that you are). We survived the demise of Life, Look, the Saturday Evening Post and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly just fine thanks.

  • Robert,
    One word: Pathfinder.

  • More news, less paper.

  • Working Reporter

    I find it remarkable that you have found so many witty ways to criticize the people who actually produce journalism, and so few ways to contribute to solving the basic problem of how they can continue to produce journalism in the absence of a working business model online.

    Riddle me this: If the answers to this conundrum as so obvious that those missing the boat are deserving of your withering criticism, why is it that there are so few individuals or organizations successfully producing news, online, for a profit? You, sir, are a media consultant — are the companies for which you consult producing original content and making a profit online?

    For that matter, you are an expert in entrepreneurial journalism. You claim to be passionate about this subject. Have you considered launching a new community news site that can investigate corruption, cover politics, watchdog police, monitor the war, and perform the other roles of the journalists you deride as “hacks” — and make money doing it?

    Or perhaps the old saying is true: those who can’t do, teach.

  • Oh, come on, “working reporter,” that’s all I write about. Start hitting the ‘older entries’ link and don’t stop until you’re sick of me.

  • just asking

    Let’s make this abstract discussion about something more tangible. Jeff, you’re largely responsible for the internet strategy being pursued by the Newhouse newspapers. Their flagship paper, the Star-Ledger, is apparently losing $30 million to $40 million a year, according to Editor & Publisher. The rest aren’t in much better shape. Don’t you think it’s about time you gave your readers an honest assessment of why your vision for Advance Internet failed? Or do you think it’s a success, despite the newspapers’ struggles, and why?

    I fully expect you to ignore this question because it’s being asked anonymously. Nonetheless…

  • Working Reporter

    Tell you what, Jeff, how about you help me out. I’m one of those dunderheaded hacks who doesn’t know much about them Internets. Yet somehow I can’t recall you ever writing a post about a demonstrated business model that makes money — basically everything you ever say boils down to “link and pray.”

    Take the examples you link to above:

    “Networked Journalism.” Finding ways for the public to point out spelling errors. Great idea. Makes money how?

    Glam. in your words, mainly a “Curator.” And as I recall, its revenue numbers are more than a little controversial — and largely does not come from its content creation.

    New Rule. Link to other people’s reporting. Great, more downsizing. More single perspective news. And makes money how?

    The link economy. The old standby. And which content producing companies is that working out for? Oh, right, Talking Points Memo and its staff of — what, eight?

    Look, I’ll put aside the snark and give you more respect than you ever give people in my line of work. I don’t know how newspapers can make money online. There, I said it. And I do know that despite the blogs, links, interactive content, and multimedia that newspapers have added — the very steps you have suggested — online ad revenue isn’t growing. It’s slowing. And it’s still less than 10 percent of what we need to survive.

    So, hey, educate me, teacher. Point me to your business model. And I’ll cheerfully go away.

  • Robert Pondiscio

    Beyond a punchline, what does your invoking Pathfinder do, other than validate my point? Print didn’t miss the digital boat. They’re on the boat, and still bailing.

  • Working,
    It’s late. This is one of the better tags. I’m serious: just keep clicking. It’s not all about new models but there’s a lot there with a lot of links:

    I’m holding a conference in new business models for news just for this purpose. Money, meet mouth.

    If you had the guts to say who you are, maybe you could come. But blank nametags aren’t allowed. Rude, you know.

    Once the conference is on, I’ll link to the wisdom of a much wiser and larger crowd.

  • Working Reporter

    Jeff, honest question: Why are you so unpleasant? Does it serve some purpose I’m not getting?

    I don’t use my name because I’m a working journalist and I want to be able to speak my mind without my employer getting involved in the conversation. Excuse the hell out of me. You’re perfectly capable of banning anonymous comments if you don’t like them.

    Thanks for the link.

  • And working, you shouldn’t go away. Better to be part of the discussion. But I really do wish you’d say who you are. We bloggers put our names on what we say. It takes away your ability to complain about anonymous, snarking bloggers.

    The bottom line is that the bottom line is going to be smaller. Newspapers aren’t monopolies anymore. They don’t need to be all things to all people. The link affords efficiency. The web demands specialization. It also demands efficiency. And it enables networks. Glam or not, I believe much of news will come from collaborative networks that support affiliates in terms of content, promotion, education, technology, and advertising.

    To save you the clicks, here are a few links:

    There’s a start. I’m not being smart-assed. I really do write about this all the time. Those are just a few of my selected posts on the topic.

  • And I’m serious, I don’t appreciate anonymity and I say it to anyone who leaves comments here. Yes, they can be left. But I have more respect for those who have the guts to stand by what they say. You’re a reporter asking questions. Since when should that be cause to hide? Maybe it’s not you I’m unhappy with on that but your employer but in any case it’s ridiculous, even offensive, when reporters hide and are not transparent – reporters of all people. Not trying to be rude about it, though I do think that having to talk to someone behind a mask is itself rather rude.

  • One more link, “working” …

    Start here and go backwards to see what a lot of people are doing to work on networked journalism. These are reports from the conference we held at CUNY a year ago:

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  • Walter Abbott

    Jeff Jarvis Says:
    October 8th, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    Forget about newspapers as a product. Think of it in terms o f journalism as a service.


    Very well put. As we see by the comments, most haven’t figured it out.

    Newspapers – and electronic broadcast news – are not and never were “products.” They are distribution systems that merely deliver words to listeners or readers. The value was the expensive monopoly systems – printing presses, delivery trucks, broadcast transmitters, microwave networks, etc. Few could assemble the necessary capital to compete.

    Citizen journalists have now taken over as deliverer of words to readers and listeners. They will now tell, who, what, when, where and why. Whether or not it becomes a paying proposition remains to be seen.

  • Jeff — two issues with your post and a question.

    Without a doubt many newspapers have become aloof, formal and too often look at the world through the eyes of the institutions they cover, not the eyes of readers. But….

    First, while I am certain that you know the distinction, your post confuses the revenue model with readership.

    While readers bring advertisers, when a much lower cost advertising alternative comes along many advertisers will use it, even if readership grows. Why? To improve efficiency from a much lower cost per thousand impressions. Before the Internet the classified ad business flourished for lack of effective and cost-efficient alternatives. This says nothing, absolutely nothing, about the news and opinion in the paper.

    That monopoly newspapers contributed to this problem, by rent-seeking prices for advertising space, is also a function of the business model (and atrophied government rules on competition). That is, again, not about the work journalists do.

    High and steadily increasing subscription prices, are also a factor over which journalists have no control. When the LATimes cut the news box price to 25-cents sales flourished. But that also brought in many readers whose incomes made them unattractive to advertisers. Again, this is the business model, not what happens in the newsroom.

    Second, readership is up at many newspapers — because of their websites. There is zero indication that demand for news has collapsed, although demand for news with an attitude clearly is on the rise.

    Also, since you are an academic with practical experience, it would be interesting to know what you think about the changes in how reading is taught and how this has affected readership. Friends of mine complain that even among college graduates many of their employees do not read and write at the level they need for their non-news businesses. In conversations with others I am struck by how many people I meet who are under 25 or 30 seem to read for specific content, but not context — and the newspaper is very much about context as facts play out over time.

  • Jeff wrote:

    “The fall of journalism is, indeed, journalists’ fault.”

    And I agree — if journalism has failed, then all members of the profession must share in the blame — individual accomplishments fade when the entire profession fails.

    This, of course, is also true about the technology sector and its contribution to the development of the personal computer and the Internet — while some geeks have made fantastic contributions, the technology sector has failed, miserably, in serving the needs of the broader society.

    And journalism’s first and most important failure was its inability to understand this new technology and its effect on society in general and journalism in particular. They bought the big lie, lock, stock and barrel, and cooperated with its dissemination to the general public.

    As a programmer, I would suggest that you learn about the personal computer and the Internet BEFORE you start developing new business models for the news.

  • Andy Freeman

    I just read about an incident that may explain some of journalism’s problems.

    A reporter asked a subject for an interview. The subject agreed if he got a copy of the entire unedited interview. The reporter withdrew the request.

    I don’t know how journalists feel about that exchange, but ordinary people think that the subject was right and are suspicious of reporters that insist on being the sole source.

  • Stan Hogan

    I followed as many of Jeff’s links as I could stomach and actually found them rather instructive.

    Mostly, they are a white flag for the newspaper industry disguised as innovative thinking, something valued so highly these days newspaper companies are willing to take their eyes off the bottom line. No small accomplishment.

    For a reality check, however, Jeff and his ilk should do an honest study of profit margins at these dinosaurs, using real dollars.

    The print model, as weak as we’ve allowed it to become, still drives the bus. Abandoning that for pie-in-the-sky visions that have proven time and again to be failures makes no sense on any level.

    If you look to the future and see your own demise you have no business advising or leading anyone. Yes, most of our failures have been self-inflicted but it’s not because we didn’t listen to people like Jeff. It’s because we did.

    We devalued our product with predictable results. We’ve changed the landscape of journalism, endangering our profession and wonder what happened.

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  • Stan,
    Just holding onto print will not work. Preservation is not a strategy for the future. Yes, I believe we should use print to drive to that future. But first you damned well better decide where you’re driving. Standing still, however, is not an option.

  • B

    On the topic of culpability, Stan Hogan wrote the only thing that really matters here:

    Here’s some cold-hard reality: Newspapers jumped online at the earliest opportunity with varying degrees of ferocity. They were swept along in the Shit River that is the culture of free and are now drowning in that refuse.

    We devalued our product and allowed it to become the fodder that drives the Internet, with minimal payback.

    None of this is any more complicated than that. Any other analysis is just overthinking.

  • “We devalued our product” is a myth.

    “We were no longer a monopoly and could no longer control news as our product” would be more accurate.

  • B

    “We were no longer a monopoly and could no longer control news as our product”

    To whatever extent newspapers “controlled news” in the first place, what was stopping them from continuing to do so? Imagine every media outlet having resisted the web — especially resisted dumping their content there at a price of $0. It’s not a given that things would have still wound up where they are today.

    Tech evangelists and Internet gurus love the frame of “control.” It’s the lens through which so much of their analysis takes shape. But it’s overrated. Not everything is about vague macro concepts such as “control.” But insofar as control is relevant here, newspapers could EASILY have maintained it. They still retain control of news production, by and large; there’s no reason they couldn’t have retained control of distribution. They threw that away by letting their stuff loose on the web, where their prime calling cards — scarcity and authority — could only be eroded.

  • B

    Sorry for the mixed metaphors up there — “cards” being “eroded” and so forth.

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  • The fall of journalism comes from the simple fact that you have nothing to offer any more. Journalists are people who can write, but don’t actually do anything. Nowadays, I can read blogs from scientists, hedge fund managers, zookeepers, Navy captains and so forth. They don’t just write, they’re actually experts at what they write about and they do it every day.

    You are not experts and you don’t do it every day. Your advantage in prose is outweighted by their advantage in knowledge. That’s pretty brutal and blunt, but there you have it.

  • jblog

    As Farhi puts it, before he dimisses them: “We were too slow to adapt, too complacent, too yoked to our tried-and-true editorial traditions and formulas. We could have saved ourselves, goes the refrain, if only we had been more creative and aggressive and less risk averse.”

    All true, but he may have missed the most important one of all: “We were so thoroughly in the tank for one side of the political spectrum or the other that we couldn’t even pretend to be objective anymore.”

    The main reason for for traditional journalism’s downfall is that the public simply doesn’t trust journalists anymore. And with good reason — they’re no longer trustworthy.

  • Peg C.

    Journalists pretty much missed the boat internet-wise, but it’s not just that they discounted, arrogantly dismissed and fundamentally misunderstood the transformative power of the new medium. And while I’m on that, how come so many of us non-journalists and “non-elites” immediately sensed the information revolution happening while these supposedly brilliant people all missed it? No one can answer that one. (My personal opinion is the least talented folks go into journalism and politics.)

    But it also goes to the fact that it is impossible to get just the facts from journalists now. They come out of j-school wanting to “change the world” and “make a difference.” Make me gag. They are all opinion-deliverers, all one-sided, and we can get all the opinion we want free online and from people who do it much better, smarter, faster. Journalists have just plain passed their sell-by date by about a decade. They no longer deliver news; they are in the way of it. I, for one, won’t pay for it and am not sorry to see their demise. They squandered something that used to be critical and universal. Now they are just a sad joke, and partisan hacks at best. Die, gatekeepers, die.

  • SC

    I’m curious, how many of those commenting here believe that journalists, and journalism more generally, are victims? If they are victims, then victims of what? Forces of nature or history? Greed and corruption, mismanagement? If the later; this seems like a hell of a story given how widespread it must be. But really, if journalists are as flexible, nimble, adaptable, etc., some have asserted, then how is the current state of the profession to be explained?

  • Richard Aubrey

    With the advent of the web and bloggers, readers found out how they’d been misled all those years.
    Many of them ceased paying for untrustworthy product.
    Seems reasonable.

  • Bruce

    Jeez, Jeff, how can you ignore the elephant in the room? Whether you like it or not, and you probably don’t, a full half of all Americans hold what can broadly be called center-right views. And after this election season, it is simply no longer intellectually respectable to pretend that most journalists are anything but in the tank for the left wing of the Democratic party. And I say this as a former left-wing Democrat.

    News organizations that can afford to spend weeks rooting through Wasilla dumpsters and going on about tanning beds, but no time at all on Obama’s links with the voter fraud factory called ACORN, for instance, or his colorful foreign contributors, have no right to any respect–or any of our dollars.

    As Jim Treacher remarked, “on the bright side, your average mainstream reporter’s political views will be a perfect fit in his or her new job as a Starbucks barista.” Enjoy your irrelevance, comrades.

  • Dan

    I was a Mass Communications student at a state university in Minnesota in the late 80s. The seeds for the current journalism mess were in place then, but hadn’t yet sprouted fully.

    Back then, most media claimed political neutrality…but look at some of the news reporting on Reagan. They HATED him, and they let it show. Not as bad as today with W, but it was fairly apparent.

    I still remember the day one of my professors (I believe it was even in an ethics course) took up the subject of neutrality. He had this whole wink-and-nudge attitude toward the thing. It was like “remember that you’re neutral, but by the way if you cover politics then you should cut a break on people like Dukakis”. Being of the same political persuasion at that time, I felt like I was in on a delicious secret. Now it turns my stomach.

    Journalism today is in the state it is, at least in part, because of that professor and others like him. Their students learned that same lesson pretty well, by the look of things.

    The problem isn’t that newspapers and others have become less neutral. It’s that they continue to hang on to their facade of neutrality. I respect an outlet that doesn’t make any bones about it. Mother Jones or The Nation are fine for what they are because they don’t pretend to be giving the right wing a fair shake. You can go there and know the editorial slant up front, so you can apply your own personal BS filter. Newsmax or Front Page ditto the other way.

    Me? I ditched journalism as a profession in favor of software development before I finished college. I never regretted it once…especially since I can now blog when the mood strikes and be read by people the world over.

  • The product was always bad — but it just keeps getting worse. And there continue to be more alternatives.

    Somewhere along the line, newspapers stopped hiring journalists and reporters and they began hiring press agents for the Democrat party — and propagandists for the left.

    I can’t look at a big city newspaper without finding lies, distortions, significant unreported news stories, and Democrat party press releases dressed up as “news”. Ditto with the networks. Patterico on the LA Times gives you more evidence than I need to substantiate my point. Or read InstaPundit on a regular basis. Or Just One Minute. The press corp is a disgrace to democracy.

    What a disgrace.

    And what intellectual midgets populate the ranks of the major news organizations — badly educated, intellectually incurious, closed minded, bigoted mediocrities. And for all that, they are condescending to their audience. What idiots.

    Do I find the product and those responsible for it appalling? Yes.

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  • I wrote the above after reading the latest dump load from Dana Milbank — an outstanding representative of the tribe.

  • Andy Freeman

    > [Newspapers] still retain control of news production, by and large;

    Not really, especially if we subtract the press-releases that they reprint.

    > there’s no reason they couldn’t have retained control of distribution.

    Yes, they could have maintained control over the distribution of news that they produced. However, the result wouldn’t be less news on the intertubes, but news from not-newspapers. For example, do you really think that the press release folks are going to avoid the web to maintain a newspaper control over “their” news? (Yes, newspapers can try to make the press release folk choose between newspapers and the web – how do you think that that will play out?)

  • DM

    …wow, so many comments and no one (except one) can actually see the forest. I’m over 50 and here’s why I no longer buy a newspaper, watch TV news or subscribe to news magazines.


    And while yes, it’s ENTIRELY the fault of journalists, it’s not because they failed to see the new business model or they abdicated responsibility, etc., etc., etc. It’s because the internet has, for the first time, pulled back the veil of authority you all have been peddling, and we can see that what you’ve been peddling isn’t news, but a very skewed view of the world as you think it should be.

    I don’t need to pay for the priviledge of being lectured to. Never have, never will. For example, I’ve known since 60 Minutes first came out decades ago that that it was ambush journalism at its finest. Whether they were morally right or wrong in what they were digging after, they used dishonest means to uncover and lay out a story. And as a consequence, I rarely ever watched that program. But I did persist in reading/ watching/ subscribing to other outlets. Not any more. The internet has changed all that. J-school grads can no longer can pass off opinion as fact or disguise personal belief as an annoymous source. Those days are over and gone.

    Hoever, good news! The day you go back to reporting the news is the day I’ll start donating my hard earned dollars to you again. I doubt it’ll come in my lifetime. But at least don’t expect me to pay a dime for your opinions. I can get my fill of opinions on the internet.

  • It’s not just bias. Newspapers became less interesting to read–so many papers don’t have very good writers, much less real reporting. There’s just no skill.

    Charles Perry , in the LA Times Food section, was one of the few writers on the paper who had pieces that were fun to read. Clever, interesting, –all the good stuff.

    Even the glossiest columnists don’t seem to care about their writing. They care more about getting on TV and expressing opinions.

  • John D. Marble

    Mr. Jarvis,

    Along the same lines as noted by “K T Cat” and “dan”; how many journalists with a degree in “Journalism” have any understanding of statistics, accounting, science, engineering, law or medicine? How can they possibly have any credibility to the rest of us?

    I do think you are on the right track by developing an entrepreneurial approach.

    Good Luck

  • Couple of points —

    * Whole industries have realigned, cutting out the middleman with the introduction of the Internet. Its called supply chain collapse. How the News organizations thought they could be immune from such changes is bewildering. Especially considering that information — News systems stock and trade — is the easiest to automate and disseminate.

    * Traditional print can’t compete as the news is old before it is even in the truck. ‘Hold for rewrite!’ can’t compete against ‘repost’ on a blog for immediacy. Nor can its price structures compete against a couple of dudes with a server and a T1 link.

    * But the Jschool grads have other issues —

    – If you want to be a news person ‘to change the world’ go work for a nonprofit. Agendas are not the purpose of reporting.
    – When I see a news person browbeat an 81 year old man who was just protecting his own property. There…
    – When I see a news person openly cheering at a convention. There…
    – When I hear that reporters are complaining about the smell on a campaign plane. There…
    – When members like Jayson Blair can make fake stories out of whole cloth. There…
    – When Dan Rather can support the idea of ‘fake but accurate’. There…
    – When news organizations will doctor evidence to their own purposes. There…
    – When the Gibsons and Courics attempt to play gotcha journalism rather than delivery of information. There…

    … is something wrong. Not with cost structures, readership, or other business excuses. The fundamental product has turned like a fish having been out in the sun for too long. The quality of product on many blogs is better informed than those of the ‘paid’ press. That was evident in the Rathergate affair.

    They NY Sun closed up shop a week ago. Before the end of 2009 at least 3 more major dailies will disappear. The News organizations have no one to blame but themselves.

  • Sarge

    I find myself wondering; how much of the problem with journalism, and journalists, stems from the same source of the problems with the public education system?

    That source being: the proselytizing and grooming for orthodoxy of thought that now passes for a ‘liberal’ education?

    Seems to me that the fall of the calling of journalist seems to track, with similar phase delay, the rise of the “professional, degreed journalist” over the mor prozaic and diversely-based “reporter,” just as the failing of the public schools tracks, with a half-career or so’s phase delay, the rise of the “professional, degreed educator” over the more prozaic and diversely-based “teachers.”

  • Dotar Sojat

    Look, you guys are so predictably and unashamedly in the tank that half the country simply doesn’t trust anything you have to say. You might start with that.

  • Steevo

    “It’s not just bias. Newspapers became less interesting to read–so many papers don’t have very good writers, much less real reporting. There’s just no skill.”

    Yes in part, a big part now that’s true but this has still been a remarkable discussion. Why do you think talk radio took off in the early 90s? And of course what is that bias… that manipulative prejudice to be more precise? PC liberal/leftism. Activist journalism with agenda. Largely void of old-fashioned values, like honesty and humility. Under scant guise of objectivity, any means possible to distort facts, evidence and down right reality. Jeff Jarvis’s big acknowledgment misses one of the biggest factors, although, he may find Keith Olbermann in agreement.

  • Jeff: Good post, but your numbers are a little off. Given the numbers you cite, the circulation/population now would be 57% of the circulation/population in 1970, i.e down 43%.

    Still very substantial.

  • Jack Okie

    jblog, Peg C. and Bruce nail it! I would love to get up in the morning and read a good newspaper with my first cup of coffee, but the rag here in Tulsa is dreck – I haven’t subscribed in years. It’s dreck because it’s hopelessly biased – leftward. Just the other day I read on the ‘net an AP story on the Obama – Ayers connection that basically just regurgitated Obama campaign talking points.

    I read someone the other day comment that Watergate was the worst thing that could have happened to the news business – now every “journalist” wants to be the next Bob Woodward. You guys would be doing a lot better if they wanted to be the next Michael Yon or Michael Totten.

    It’s a myth that we’re all partisans who only want to read stuff we agree with. I’ll bet jblog, Peg C. and Bruce, along with tens of millions of others, would welcome, and pay for, accurate and objective reporting. This financial crisis is a direct result of the failure of the press / media to do their job. But as said above, there are now other sources for news. You hacks won’t be missed.

  • schroborn

    52% don’t trust the media? I don’t believe it. I think it is much higher than that. They must have included journalists in the poll. Take them out, and it is probably 99%. Even liberals know they media are lying.

  • Brian C.

    Here’s a small example of how journalism is failing its community of readers. In my Southwestern city my wife and I live near to what once was one of the consistently busy full-service corp. chain restaurants in the city. It had been in place for 10 years, and the parking lot overflowed every night onto the neighboring streets and lots.

    It suddenly closed down with no notice or a press release. People who knew I lived nearby were asking me about it. I e-mailed the food editor at one of the dailies and asked if they knew anything and got no response. I e-mailed the food editor at a weekly a couple weeks later and got the brushoff – she wouldn’t even make a phone call to corporate – told me to forward an e-mail to the business reporter!

    I then had a unprofitable e-mail dialogue with the reporter and finally blind-copied the editor out of frustration with her rudeness, thinking that he’d be interested, and the reporter was just being lazy. The editor chewed me out, telling me that he could care less about chain eateries. I replied that it’s not profitable for a paper to consider someone who tries to inform and suggest stories to be a nuisance.

    I forwarded e-mails to my friends, and they couldn’t believe journalists and editors could be so rude and uncaring.

  • Crow

    After having read the above posts, I have come to the concusion that many of the writers are clueless. If the news media put out a quality product it would sell much better than what we have available in general today. Does no one understand the law of supply and demand? If I constantly get “crap” from this source what do you think I am going to do in the future? If you guess buy more crap, please stop reading now.

    When I was much younger the news media put out news that was just facts with little commentary. Today we are quite short of complete facts and get lots of bias that is called commentary. Way too often this bias is obviously biased left. I don’t know if this is journalism schools teaching this or just bad editors but the print and video media today puts out a poor quality product. Why would anyone with brains pay for a poor quality product when they can go online for free and find with just a little searching complete unbiased facts?
    As an example why did no major news outlet look into Barack Obamas background with a fine tooth comb like they do for republican candidates?

    If it’s not bias what is it?

    Why is there no published info on his years in college and his years before he became a presidential candidate. The public is not complete idiots. Sure some are more easily fooled and led than others but at least some see that no info is being produced. Before you call me biased I am registered for voting as a libertarian. I don’t like McCain, but at least I know about him. The news media in general has done worse than a bad job of researching Obama’s background which can only lead to justified charges of bias. Why would I buy that product? That was as an example.
    This problem is way more than just about politics. The poor quality of what is now called journalism covers a large range of topics being presented with a bias instead of presenting complete facts. I am smart enough to make up my own mind I don’t need or appreciate being told/led toward/ what to think. News should be objective yet todays news is more subjective by quite a margin.
    Is it any wonder that bloggers have grabbed market share? Many successful bloggers put out a quality product that is enjoyable to read and they present all the facts letting me the reader make up my own mind.
    Intellectual honesty is very important. Too many journalists (obviously not all) seem to have missed that fact in their writings. The ride down that slippery slope may already be too far gone for print news industry to recovery.
    I have no intention of coming back here to read any replies. The blog owner has my email he can reply if he wants to.

  • Skip Kent

    I see so much of this echoed in the film industry. It used to be that movie scripts were written by ‘real’ published writers. Script-writers existed mainly to massage the story into a camera and microphone friendly format.

    Now ‘blockbuster’ movies are written by kids who went to college to write movies.

    News used to ‘happen’ and it was just the reporter’s job to check the facts and collate that ‘happening’ into a coherent text, information-rich at the top with the fluff on the bottom, ready to be trimmed to fit the page in the paste-up room

    Now all the fluff and self-aggrandizing opinion is at the top, and the content is nowhere to be found.

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  • Hear, hear! Although it might not be the journalists so much as the publishers who wanted to rest on their laurels.

    After recycling three newspapers for years I now get my news from Web sites. Newspapers still call me offering subscriptions. I say, “If I wanted a subscription, don’t you think I’d have one by now?”

  • I was center-left until 9-11, now I’m center-right. I stopped reading the L.A. Times because of their simplistic biases but by then I was also getting all the news I could read from the internet for free, be it from blogs or directly. Would I subscribe to a great paper that reports news without editorializing? Maybe, but I’m also addicted to free internet news. I can even read the Sunday ads for Best Buy and such online. A paper would have to have a hell of a lot to offer me.

  • Peg C.

    JohnMc touched on something that really came to the forefront during RatherGate. There are experts in every field you can name blogging with their expertise. Something like 20 minutes after the airing of the TANG documents they were being analyzed and torn apart by experts who quickly exposed them as fakes. There are no experts in journalism; it is much more a jack-of-all-trades business and the expertise they purported to sell has been exposed for the fakery I’m guessing it always was. They certainly are out of their league in trying to explain the economic mess to us. I understand it better after reading Blackhedd on RedState than I can from any MSM outlet you name (and I am economics-averse).

    Virtually all of the bloggers I follow are experts in their fields. Most write better than college professors. Has anyone read a newpaper or current events magazine lately and not struggled through inpenetrable syntax, typos and other glaring editorial errors? It’s agony – and that’s without examining the execrable content of most articles. I’ll go and find what I want; no one is going to feed it to me anymore. And I, too, am over 50. Our kids don’t know what a newpaper is. When even those of us over 50 have given up on newspapers, TV news, etc., what does that say for the viability of the business?

  • bse5150

    Newspapers are losing subscribers and thus, advertisers because they can’t be trusted to report the truth. They have become newsmakers and footsoldiers for the DNC. I go to the blogs and FoxNews for my news. Simple as that.

  • Reg

    It seems to be that we often conflate three or more “journalisms” when we dive into the “who’s at fault” issue.

    There’s “journalism” meaning media organizations, along with their good and bad journalists, good and bad business staff and (good and bad) readerships; there’s “journalism” meaning the universe of journalists, some entrepreneurial, some curmudgeonly, some smart, some lazy, and so on; then there’s “journalism” meaning the practice of the craft and including all the civic-minded public service ideals that many of us want to see survive in whatever sustainable business model comes along.

    The first group didn’t do a great job trying to adapt to the new business realities. But while there’s certainly no shortage of examples of grossly bad business and journalism decisions, it’s also true that few industries – whether well-run or not – have adapted well to disruptive technologies, which the internet surely is. Clay Christensen’s work (The Innovator’s Dilemma and other books) shows how an existing customer base often traps even far-sighted companies into patterns of behavior that leave them vulnerable to smaller, more nimble upstarts.

    Which is exactly what we’re seeing in the news business, where some members of the second kind of “journalism” are coming up with new and entrepreneurial ways of reporting, presenting and distributing news, and as a result picking away at the established business model.

    That’s not to absolve media organizations from bad decisions made along the way, or to lionize the emerging new pack of media organizations or entrepreneurs; it’s simply to suggest that organizational structure, existing customer bases and so on have something to do with it as well – and that this cycle isn’t particularly unique to the news business.

    Does it matter whose fault it is? It doesn’t if all we want to do is point fingers; but it does if it helps us figure out what the underlying causes are, so we can build better and more sustainable news/business models for the future.

  • orthodoc

    No offense to journalists, but the reason that newspapers are tanking is because of the Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect. I see this all the time in medical “news” reporting.
    The reporters generally get things dead-ass wrong; even when they can manage to get some things right, they still can’t understand or communicate the details. I don’t believe anything written on topics I know.
    So why should I believe anything written about topics I don’t know? Frankly, if I want economics, I can read 20 blogs written by economists, not some piece of crap written by an innumerate “journalist.” Ditto for legal issues, demographics, and so on.

  • Dusty

    Readers are starved for quality. Great writers had, have, and will have no problem selling their products. Investigative journalists will always be able to sell their product.

    Lazy arrogant plagiarists are no longer in demand. Nobody wants to reguritating an earlier article. Why would I pay you, when I can subscribe directly to AP wire for free?

    Readers aren’t interested in sermons from the MSM cult. Yes, we see the elite MSM mindset as just another cult, with all the wierd secrets and myths, and it is just as boring as Mithraism.

  • Larry J

    Several years ago, I read an article stating the importance of really knowing what business you’re in. The author described the “Railroad Men” and how they missed the changes that impacted their industry. The fact was that they were in the transportation businesses and railroads are only a part of that. I hear the same thing from “newspaper men.” You’re not really in the newspaper business, you’re in the information business. Until you realize that, you’re only going to see your profession continue to decline.

    The issue of trust can’t be brushed aside. Reporters have squandered the public’s trust with their bias and naked favoritism. “Fake but Accurate” is hardly a way to win and maintain the public’s trust. Upwards of 50% of Americans are Republicans but you’d never know that to read most newspapers, magazines, or watch news programs. You’ve proven unworthy of our trust so we turn away from you. Your circulation and viewership continues to decline but you go ever deeper in the tank for Democrats. Millions of people like me can honestly say that we don’t need you any more.

    As a job aid for those journalists who’ll soon be losing their jobs, I recommend “Would you like a muffin with your latte?” You won’t be working at my company.

  • Angelo Rombola

    Most of the article and the responses are indeed “Bullshit.” I saw no references to the fact that 95% of all US Newspapers and magazines are leftist-oriented, and do ttheir best to stiff the 50% of their potential audiences by delivering socialist drivel. Where is the oft-praised “investigative reporting?” If there is any it tries to defame conservatives and Republicans; but Democrats seem to be on the side of the angels- therefore free of sin
    and below their investigative ‘scopes. I ans many of my friends were once proud subscribers to Time, The NY Times, Newsweek, The Bergen Record, NY News, Long Island Newsday, Philadelphia Enquirer, et al. But over the years they have fallen farther and farther to the left. A has been said many times-“They left me, I didn’t leave them.” So now they got their wish- a small but loyal following of air-heads who don’t think and have beengradu

  • gumbyblue

    Egads, the journalists responding to this just can’t see it. News is a service and when we “the paying subscriber” can;t stomach the service we are getting we go else where.

    When I wanted to find out what was going on in the middle east — I turned to Totten & Yon. There was no bias, just raw perspective. When opinion was injected it was noted with “I think…” or “It is my opinion…”

    When I want hurricane information… I go to the Hurricane blogs that report data to let me make the proper decisisons. I could give a flip about some reporter standing in the surf saying “Gee the wind is picking up now.”

    When I want sports news, I go to the blogs to discuss the good the bad and the ugly with people who have an actual interest in the teams I follow.

    When I want science news, I hit up the science blogs to give me the news and views… not skewed hopes and dreams of an uneducated twit that doesn’t know the difference between bench science and application.

    When I want politic news, I wants facts not opinion (nor opinion disguised as facts.) So you won’t be seeing my dollar. I won’t support your habit. I am not an enabler.

    Until journalists start acting as reporters (note the noun here… one who reports [the news]) the consumer will seek elsewhere to get the news. News is hard to come by… it’s the commodity you can peddle…. but for some odd reason you refuse to sell it. Opinions are cheap and everywhere…. so why try to compete in that market. As long as you continue to peddle opinion, don’t be surprised to find the competition incredibly stiff. Or maybe after all that schooling in journalism, you guys really never learned the difference between the two.

  • Dark Eden

    It has been interesting reading the posts by insiders or people who pretend to be insiders versus those of their customers and the radical difference in focus between the two. The left wing bias is so obvious and so well covered its a tiresome subject. All I will say is that its not up to the customer base to prove that the media is biased, its up to the media to prove to their customers that they aren’t biased.

    As important is the complete lack of expertise. I was quite young when I noticed that almost any news story about a subject I was familiar with usually got very basic information completely wrong and showed a shocking lack of real knowledge. With the explosion of the internet, it became clear that’s standard operating procedure. Why go to a reporter — sorry “Journalist” — talking about a subject he barely comprehends when you can go straight to the source through blogs without the seemingly obligatory J-school left wing bullshit.

  • hey

    The major problem for all of journalism is that they went from local monopolies to minnows in the Pacific. The most successful (relatively) of the newspapers have been those that were always in a competitive environment. The UK has as more successful online papers than the US. They are doing better because they were always in a national market and had to fight harder than imaginable for their share. When competing against every publication in the english world, the UK papers are piranhas let into an aquarium. US papers were goldfish.

    The best comparison is local independent TV vs the networks. No one would have dreamed that a local station could beat a national net, but they keep trying when it’s papers. You are not a special snowflake, you are not unique.

    The monopolies would have held if every newspaper published in english had refused to go online for free. If you believe coordinating a cartel of thousands is possible, your model will get a nobel in economics and a fields medalfor the math (game theory is an orphan in terms of prizes).

    With the tubes everywhere is london/NYC/… There is no local advantage and you can’t live off your bureau or the AP feed. This hits the NYT just as much as anyone (they just do really well written AP feeds). Papers need a hook – unique information that is time dependent or else a stylistic approach that the demo loves. You have to be Bloomberg or Vogue.

    WSJ and FT have unique and make $$$, NYT has style, WaPo combines. LAT gets its ass kicked on both.

    This all devolves to power laws. Papers are starting to grasp (my locals don’t print stock tables any more), but are inherently resistant. The english media will resemble the UK media in 5 to 10 years. Look at the sites most linked on FARK – a few papers from all over the world, with a focus on the biggest ones in their country.

    The final problem is the pretense of ojectivity. Insulting your customers is not a long term success story. Yet so many go for it.

    My health prescription – hyper local, state your preferences, find a unique selling proposition, know your subject.

    People are succeeding online by a hyper focus on their subject matter. CNBC has much respect because their anchors generally have experience in the industry or have been focused on finance for decades. CNBC has its problems, but they have much more respect than anyone besides WSJ, FT and Andrew Ross Sorkin. Similarly Dealbreaker and Clusterstock are working thanks to focus, knowledge, and an awareness that the world is their competitor. Linking to and breaking against FT WSJ NYT DT TOL NP G&M… also helps.

    Dealbreaker (I love them, sorry) ran their asses off iin the past month, updating late on Sunday nights, working through the high holidays, all to break news. They did this with 3 editorial staff, one of whom solely did AM headlines, 2 of which left for a conmpetitor during the crisis.

    The new model is lean, eats nails for breakfast and bends crowbars for a light workout, and sees everyone publishing in the same language as a mortal enemy. When the local monopoly accepts this, they’ll be fine. Unfortunately it goes against everything that a local monopoly expects and is why even the premier pubs are at risk.

    So end war & peace!

  • 1. The problem with many “journalists” is that they know absolutely nothing about specialized topics. A politician could lie to their face about a complex topic and they’d just dutifully write down what they said without noticing that they’d been lied to. If they did notice, they wouldn’t say anything due to wanting to keep access. In some cases – as with illegal immigration – almost every “news” report is full of lies because the papers want it that way: they or their affiliates profit in some way from illegal activity.

    2. There are almost no “journalists” willing to ask candidates real questions designed to call them on their lies or point out the flaws in their policies. If there were, I wouldn’t have spent almost two years trying to push this plan.

  • Sotos Yannopoulos

    “We devalued our product” is a myth.

    “We were no longer a monopoly and could no longer control news as our product” would be more accurate.”

    A very lively discussion. Being functionally illiterate I will just make a few points.

    Bias in and of itself may not be the issue: historically newspapers were more than just biased, they were creatures of political factions. In the 19th century they depended on advertising from local governments and would pay a real price if they angered the powers that be. While this changed with the penny papers, even through the 1950’s it was expected that there would be bias – indeed people bought their papers in multi-paper markets with this in mind. The one thing that no one would tolerate was boring, and let’s face it, a lot of what is put out is badly written tripe and about as entertaining as reading some of the drearier parts of a deconstructivist’s Phd.

    To an outsider such as myself, there seems to be a presumption on the part of the media that they know best and that only news professionals are fit to determine what is news and what it means. The press thinks that only it is pure enough to know what is IMPORTANT & that their biases are not a bias towards a side or sides, but the TRUTH. It is hard to do this when any reasonable person with access to Google can go and evaluate what editorial choices were made, and see other points of view.

    What makes this so galling is that many of us now suspect that Journalists are a pretty ignorant bunch. I remember once listening to a report with my then boss/mentor, and remembering how shocked we were when the reporter almost got it right; we assumed the story would be FUBAR. This is a common experience.

    And as regards as to who or what level in media organization is to blame, well that is beyond my pay grade but we should all admit that something is wrong and that the problem may not lie with the reading public.

  • L.Higgs

    Are journalists CEO’s ? Publishers? Because unless they are, Journalists hardly have control over their destiny to take the blame for the industry’s decline. The decisions about technology, the web, how far to go with the web and staff to commit to it, in addition to content, are made in the boardroom, not in the newsroom.
    How many of journalists had an internet capable computer on their desks in the late 1990’s? Not many.
    Here is a telling sign. When I was assigned one of those “how far behind are our schools in technology” stories, I alway found the schools were further along and better equipped (at least in NJ) than the newsrooms covering them. The first place I ever saw a flat bed scanner was in a classroom, not the newsroom.
    For too long, news organizations treated computers like a glorified typewriter and as a result, journalists worked on machines that were museum pieces.
    Who’s decision was it to keep us up to date on technology? The boardroom, not the newsroom.
    As far as the Internet goes, the decline in the news business has to do with the people on the top misreading and mishandling the internet. After the dot com bust, there seemed to be a feeling of relief by those at the top of news organizations.
    Instead of using that time to research the internet and having a plan in place, the industry ignored it, until it was clear that the business (and readers) were going to the web.
    What followed was a frenzy of bad decisions and equally bad news organization websites, which were slow and frustrated readers. Worst of all was there was no model for selling ads on those websites, so they brought in the same amounts of revenue as those nice big double truck ads in the print product did.
    What journalists have done is roll with the punches thrown at them through redesigns, refocusing and reprioritizing and downsizing of the newsroom. Yes there are people who resist change like any industry, and they’re learning, adapt or get out of the way.
    But to fully blame journalists for what has happened is flat out in error and would only be accurate if journalists are elected to the board of directors, hired as CEO’s or other chief executives. We are not the decision makers, we are the foot soldiers carrying out the orders of the people on top.

  • Angelo Rombola

    The article and most of the responses omit a large part of Journalism’s problem: Loss of readership, due, not to the Internet, but to the inexorable shift of most reporters to the left of the political spectrum. Note that by doing so they have abandoned approximately 50% of their potential audiences. And all because of their ignorant and slavish adherence to authoritarian principles contrary to those of many Americans. They appear to want to be Europeans, those wonderful people who give us $8.50 a gallon gas,
    12% unemployment and numerous other goodies. Well, those of us who once proudly subscribed to Time, The NY Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Long Island Newsday,
    \The Bergen Record, Newsweek et al, have fallen off their radar screens as they slipped inexorably to the left. As many have said “They left me. I didn’t leave them.” Now no new chickens are coming home to roost, as readership has fallen (and is still falling) as low as the stock market. So place the blame where ye may but think on this (and sometimes the Bible- you know that book written by those dirty, raggedy jews in a far-off land- is right:)
    “AS YE SOW, SO SHALL YE REAP” (fyi: I’m an atheist)

  • leah

    Only 52%? You gotta be kiddin’. I would have put it at 252%!

  • Deagle

    Geez… Journalism would be as valuable as ever if they just published the truth – ie. FACTS. It’s simple folks, when they engage in false or incomplete journalism they will always fail in the long run. Simple yes, but true…

    Journalism as we use to know it is dead!

  • Mike Myers

    Oh heck, may as well pile on here. I’m a consumer of news; I’ve read the Wall Street Journal for some 45 plus years now; when I lived in San Diego I read the Tribune; moved to Los Angeles in 74 and have been a Los Angeles Times subscriber since then. Back in the 70’s read Time and Newsweek; (today I wouldn’t use them to line a bird cage). Travelled a lot in my work and read the local papers wherever I went. Still read both USA Today and the New York Times on occasion. [I guess that means I’d pass Katie Couric’s test on reading papers].

    But I’m watching the Los Angeles Times die–and the Wall Street Journal prosper or at least stay healthy relative to the competition.

    Why? Lack of discipline is a major factor.

    Discipline in editing: for years the Los Angeles Times simply did not edit its writers in any meaningful fashion. A story that the New York Times could report in 12 inches on the front page would take 50 column inches spread over 3 jump pages in the Los Angeles Times. Did any of those “Chandler trust fund morons” decried by the laid off L.A. Times staffer somewhere above ever buy a box of blue pencils for the editors? Don’t think so.
    Blue pencil editors prevailed at the New York Times and at the Journal. It’s a question of respect for the reader and the time he or she has to devote to reading a story.

    Discipline in objectivity. The Wall Street Journal impresses because it mostly keeps its editorial opinions on the editorial page–and out of the news pages. At both the LA Times and the New York Times, I can’t figure out where the editorial pages start and stop–it’s pretty much throughout the newspaper. Editors are entitled to their opinions; sometimes they are even interesting and informative–but those opinions don’t belong in what is offered as “straight news”. I long ago concluded that the Los Angeles Times was no longer a serious newspaper. It’s only habit that keeps me subscribing to it–plus the sports pages and some of the cartoons–although editorial bias is on the cartoon pages as well.

    So the problem is the product. I don’t much care about reading most local newspapers these days–get most of my news through the Journal. I skim the Times and glance at the New York Times. Some of you young whippersnappers in the press may remember an ill fated automobile called the Yugo–imported from, yes that’s right, Yugoslavia.

    The Yugo was cheap; in around 1983 or so, you could buy a “brand new Yugo” for $4,000. A lot of folks jumped at the chance. Three years later, you couldn’t sell a used Yugo for 4 cents–if it was still running.

    And this generation of journalists has been palming off a “Yugo” version of journalism–and thinks that the readers should be lapping it up.

  • Koblog

    I quit my local paper because I cannot stand the self-righteous phony cynical “ink-stained wretch” persona of the one “star” writer the paper has.

    Whoo-hoo! A hack wins an award from a self-aggrandizing award awarder (you know, like Oscars for acting being given out by other actors) and he can tell me what’s right and wrong.

    Well, forget him. The guy offends me and then complains I won’t pay the paper to pay his salary.

    I’m one of those 52% that don’t trust the media. That would be the media that claims to be objective–an outright lie.

    I don’t have to support known liars–or those that cover for them.

  • huxley

    With the advent of the internet, journalists faced a huge challenge and a likely reduced readership.

    Journalists could have managed this transition more nimbly no doubt, but I don’t entirely blame them for that. I do blame them for their steady march leftward while ladling more and more obvious bias into their work, which has alienated half the country, i.e. half their potential readers. How can that be good business?

    Had journalists not done so, they would have had more time to find their way in the new internet world and they would have maintained a relationship with readers in that new world.

    As it stands, I for one am gone for good as a potential customer. All I have to know about a new publication, online or otherwise, or a writer

    However, journalists steadily marched leftward, ladling in more and more bias until now a majority of Americans no longer trust journalists

  • Steve Gregg

    I see several problems beyond trust, though that is a big showstopper itself.

    The culture has changed dramatically in the last century from when newspapers were in their heyday. People believed everything in the newspapers back then. Nowadays, there is considerable skepticism about the media. My elderly aunts and uncles were often astonished if I disagreed with something in print. My aunt said, “Why would they print it if it wasn’t true?” You’re dealing with a more skeptical audience now.

    If you go to an undeveloped country, you’ll see the old credulity about the media that we used to have. That’s why such wild conspiracy stories flourish in that media while they are confined to the tabloids here.

    Part of this is a change in values by the journalists. They’re not interested in reporting the facts, but selling their ideas. The empty morality of journalism is illustrated by the Pulitzer Prize that the New York Times displays and refuses to remove that Walter Duranty won by writing propaganda for the Soviet Union on the pages of the Times, including covering up the mass starvation of millions in the Ukraine, the gulag, the executions, et al. The display of that Pulitzer demonstrates that journalists have no honor.

    Another problem is that as journalism became a credentialed profession requiring a college degree, its audience became educated, too. All too often as we professionals read the paper and wanders into our domain of knowledge, we realize that the reporter has no idea what he’s talking about. Reporters very often don’t know their beat. It didn’t occur to them that they need to know something besides journalism if they want to write something of value. Reporters are particularly wildly uninformed when it comes to economics, the military, and foreign affairs. Most times they are simply reporting their unexamined and ignorant prejudices.

    Most of all, the problem journalists have is they stopped reporting the news and started making the news. It’s particularly true of folks like Geraldo Rivera and Anderson Cooper, who see the news as a backdrop for themselves. I laugh Coopers forays into Hurricane Katrina and abroad because he is always in the foreground of every shot with the news event in the background. It’s the Anderson Cooper show where the news events help display his fine character and superior moral weave.

    I was at President Bush’s last inauguration parade in 2005. After he passed, a bunch of thug protestors started throwing snowballs at the cops, chanting against Israel. The cops didn’t even flinch when the snowballs hit them. So the thugs started pulling up the plants from the pots and the hotel and throwing them. No reaction from the cops. Then the protestors started throwing full pop cans. The cops cleared the innocent bystanders back and pepper-sprayed the protestors.

    The next day, half the newspapers I read on the net reported the story as if the cops just randomly decided to hose down an innocent crowd. The other half portrayed it as an unprovoked attack on the protestors. It was a vivid demonstration of media bia. I don’t believe anything I read in the paper. You can actually become less informed or disinformed by reading the paper.

    Quality is the ultimate problem. The newspapers are delivering stories that are incompetently understood by the writers and tainted with their political bias.

  • huxley

    Excuse the premature submit above. With the advent of the internet, journalists faced a huge challenge and a likely reduced readership.

    Journalists could have managed this transition more nimbly no doubt, but I don’t entirely blame them for that. I do blame them for their steady march leftward while ladling more and more obvious bias into their work, which has alienated half the country, i.e. half their potential readers. How can that be good business?

    Had journalists not done so, they would have had more time to find their way in the new internet world and they would have maintained a relationship with readers in that new world.

    As it stands, I for one am gone for good as a potential customer. If I know that a writer or a new publication, online or otherwise, is connected to the old world of journalism, I will shun them.

  • I suspect the decline of newspapers had more to do with content than economics.

    In the past newspapers were heavily subsidized by advertising. The Internet has taken away much of that revenue. That revenue source could be replaced by charging more for smaller, relatively ad-free newspapers.

    The public won’t pay more, you say? Probably not, but they have begun to pay to watch TV shows that are broadcast for free. They do it for the luxury of watching any time undistracted by irritating ads. That’s one way people are choosing to spend their increased affluence. The same could be true of newspapers.

    Why won’t they do the same for newspapers? Perhaps because many of them are disgusted with the content. Look at our Presidential race. The polls are close enough that it makes sense to say that roughly half the country’s adults favor McCain/Palin. What has the press of this country offered them? A media that made more effort to dig up dirt on Sarah Palin in the first two weeks after McCain made her his VP, than they’ve devoted to Obama in the entire 18 months of his campaign.

    Was there any legitimate news sense involved in that? Hardly, Palin’s a quite successful, corruption-attacking governor, with an approval rating of 75% among the state’s Democrats. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the press would draw a blank, as indeed they have.

    Meanwhile, in the other corner, you’ve got a candidate that almost no one in the country outside Illinois had heard of 18 months ago. You’ve got someone who can’t name any significant things he has done as Chicago alderman, Illinois state legislator, or US Senator. He demonstrable talents are virtually zip. One Obama fan I talked with on the bus could name only one reason in his past to vote for him–he’d gone to Harvard.

    If you’ve followed this campaign on the Internet rather than in the traditional media, you’d have to conclude that Obama’s only talent is picking the wrong sort of people for his associates. In lightly populated Alaska, Palin managed to find corrupt officials to root out. In Chicago, where you can almost toss a stick and hit a crooked politician, Obama hasn’t been even upset the lunch of one crook, much less got a crook tossed out of office. Change we can depend on? Hardly.

    Face facts. When half the country thinks the Old Media is simply the propaganda arm of the Democratic party, and the other half can get the same tilted news from websites like MoveOn, it’s a wonder anyone subscribes to newspapers. The press simply isn’t doing what the press is supposed to do.

    For confirmation, look at the old ‘big three’ TV networks. They display a similar bias and they are seeing similar declines in the numbers watching their newscasts. The problem lies in what the two forms of news media share in common–news content that tilts so heavily in favor of Democrats that tens of millions of Americans have concluded that they’re lying down in bed with the party.

    And they’re right.

  • Guy Love

    Boy, you struck a nerve. The true hard core believers that think journalists are not at fault for anything have circled the wagons as they are being picked apart by an army of better educated news consumers. Jeff has consistently tried to warn these dolts that the game is up and they must adapt or perish. Their response is to dig their head deeper into the sand and chant “I DON’T BELIEVE, I DON’T BELIEVE”.

    Traditional corporate-ran monopoly media is toast. This election and the bailout crisis has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt just what a useless bunch of spares they have become. The entire US press is suffering from a leadership crisis. This is very unfortunate as their country needs them more than ever to do their job.

  • ” The true hard core believers that think journalists are not at fault for anything have circled the wagons as they are being picked apart by an army of better educated news consumers. Jeff has consistently tried to warn these dolts that the game is up and they must adapt or perish.”

    Actually, Jarvis is as thin-skinned, bullying and petty as any other journalist or institution when you call him on his own BS in this regard. Jersey’s media – some of whom are Jarvis’ clients – are enablers of some of the most outrageous corruption in the country. Jarvis loves promoting himself as a ‘new media consultant’, but where the rubber actually meets the road, he’s nowhere to be found.

  • High Plains Drifter

    Self inflicted wounds, is my verdict.

    But to be fair, the legacy media were set up. They are useful idiots whose credibility was destroyed when they bought in to the extreme left wing ideology imported wholesale into journalism (and law and history and the rest of the humanities) schools by the “Long March through the institutions” of Ayers and his ilk.

    I think y’all were predisposed to take on the role of stooge for BO by Lippmann’s concept of “manufacturing consent”. What a crock. I don’t need anyone to make up my mind for me, I need people with guts to report the truth.

    Who here among the professional journalists have published about and looked into the connections between Rashid Khalidi and Bill Ayers and BO as deeply as BO’s media enablers have investigated Todd Palin’s role in Troopergate? I think even if Todd actually tried to get the guy fired, it would be much less important than BO’s membership in the socialist New Party.

    How come we know *nothing* about BO’s years at Columbia? Where are his academic records? Who paid for his college? Who Wrote Dreams From My Father?

    Anybody here following the story for which Jerome Corsi was deported from Kenya, namely, BO’s support as a Senator for the murderous, duplicitous Raila Odinga who promised to bring Sharia law to Kenya?

    Phil Berg’s document expert is convinced the .jpg of BO’s certificate of live birth (which is all we have) is a forgery. Witnesses testify to BO having been born in Kenya. Is anyone at any newspaper following up on this?

    despite its tax status as a “non-partisan” organization, the radical group ACORN has been working for the Obama campaign since its inception to register millions of new voters in dozens of cities. Recently, several irregularities in ACORN voter registrations have come to light… is there a widespread, systematic effort to steal the 2008 election by faking registrations for hundreds of thousands of people in key states? Anybody want to go after that one?

    As for the huge amount of money that the Obama campaign claims it has raised from small donors, the identity and nationality of those donors could very well remain secret until well after the election unless the Obama campaign makes their names public. Unless someone at a newspaper grows a pair.

    It’s no wonder the majority of Americans don’t trust the media. You want to sell papers? Start looking for and printing the truth. I would take a paper, if I could get the truth from it the way I do from talk radio and bloggers and sites like

  • Stan in Sugar Land

    Why is the news media failing? And here you can include newspapers, electronic, etc, two reasons:
    The first is an old economics concept, alluded to in many of the comments, added value. News reporters want me to invest a fair amount of my time to read or heard the report, but in the end I receive no value for for my invested time. I learn nothing from the reporting, the stories are so predictable.

    The second reason? An incredibly poor education, a journalism degree equips one to flip burger at the local DQ.

  • JSF


    Great article. I took courses at UCLA and The Leadership Institute about Broadcast and Print journalism. Here is the thing:

    As a political activist (who has worked on both sides of the aisle), I se the unprofessionalism of those same reporters who are trying to educate the public on what we do.

    My contacts in the NYC Democratic Party and Queend Party machine always knew that “Pinch” always calls the the DNC PR department to decide what front page stories should be highlighted.

    As a GOP, I saw reporters all want to talk to our current Gov., but they do not know the names of their local Assembly District Commitees (of either party). And during the State Conventions, no reporter ever ventured to meet one.

    If the reporters want to save their product, start treating all political views the same. Know your local activists. Treat them with the respect you want to be treated.

    Poolitical people are more media savvy then most, but pissing off half of that audience does not equal financial support. Here is a map, maybe you could send it to Poytner…

  • dkite

    I’m not a journalist, only someone who has contributed over the years to many a journalist’s salary by reading papers and news magazines.

    I rarely buy a paper now.

    First, all the papers have the same stories. Some lazy person pulled something off the wires and reworked the wording. Why is everything doing the same? Is it the same lazy person? I suppose it worked when the papers controlled the news. No longer.

    Second, the writing is awful. I picked up a NY Times, the Paper of Record, found a story I was interested in, and put the paper down. There was something interesting there, but the writing hid it. Just awful. My time is worth more than that.

    Third, I read to learn things. For me to learn something means the presenter must know something of what they present. It ain’t there. What’s wrong with lengthy interviews with genuine experts? I get them today, but not from the old media.

    Fourth, when someone says something, I want to hear it all. If the journalist is doing some parsing or editing, if they have nothing new to add, then it’s wasted space. Partial he said/she said quotes are not getting my money.

    Fifth, I stopped reading and listening to anyone who went anywhere near describing Rather’s escapades as ‘alleged’. All that told me was that I knew more than them, and they didn’t deserve my time.

    It isn’t trust, or bias. I use products in my work that are second or third rate, put out by someone only interested in the sale, not my satisfaction. They don’t get a second sale. I’ll read a thoughtful lefty or right winger with something well thought out and well presented. I’m not interested in comparisons of views, I’m interested in what smart people think at length. I’ll pay for that. But I won’t get your rag every day to find quality once every week or two.

    And anyone moaning about how hard done by they are can follow me around in my work for a day or two. I have to earn my keep.


  • One of the transitions that journalism went through was the move from the hacks to the elite getting into the field. Once journalism became a playground for the Ivy League grads it stopped being reporting but instead trying to make a difference.
    So while the old school reporters focused on getting the who when and where’s done correctly, todays reporters are focused on getting their perspective into their articles.
    And that was when journalism lost me.

  • fred

    I am a lifelong avid reader of the news (I’m 50). Over the past 5 years, I have stopped reading the NYT (which I used to buy at the newsstand religiously every single day for 20 years), stopped watching any major network newscasts or Sunday morning shows and I now find myself striving mightily to avoid linking to AP and WaPo. Why? Because of your incessant boosterism of the Democrats and the left in general, your obvious contempt for those of us on the conservative end of the political spectrum, your treasonous behavior during the war on terror (exposing our ability to conduct intercepts of OBL’s comms at Tora Bora being the most egregious example), the list just keeps going. So, you all have managed to lose up to 50% of your readership because of your behavior.
    At this point (and especially if Obama wins-because of your blatant refusal to do any serious investigation of his past) I hope you all lose your jobs. I’m afraid you all have made “journalistic ethics” synonymous with “legal ethics” (ie., an oxymoron).

  • Rob

    I remember many years ago being interested in the idea of truth. I realized that perfection is unlikely but you can approach the truth by seeking after it. I see little truth seeking in the current mainstream media and much ignorance, lazyness and manipulation.

    So I ask myself why should I support with my attention and subscriptions magazines and news papers that are fundamentally dishonest.

    The answer is that I should not and need not since there are now alternatives.

    Reporters who look around and declare themselves blameless of this sorry state of affairs is just a symptom of the depth of the problem.

  • Stan Hogan

    I honestly tried to read most of these interesting comments. Yes, a politically polar world requires more than ever a trusted, balanced source of information. Our industry hammers from one side way too much, throwing in the occasional “balancing” piece to show just how objective we are. Poklitical cartoonists are the worst with their heavily left cheap shots.

    Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom knows it’s a big-time liberal atmosphere. Keeping those views out of print can work until you hand the hard-core types control, or an editorial/column writing job.

    Had we not gone online with our content people online would have seen just how quickly all objectivity can disappear and the Internet would be more of a flaming cesspool than it is now. Hey that old newspaper wouldn’t look so bad. You go with who you know to be telling the truth and ink stainers are still coming the closest.

    And yes, inproving the print product for a new audience hasn’t happened fast enough. For journalists who think they have been edgy and fun I would say this: “Gomer Pyle: USMC” ran its mass appeal into the ground decades ago. Now, if you’re lucky(?) you might find it on some retro niche cable channels. Yet, “Beetle Bailey” is still prime time stuff for most newspapers. Yeah, you’re real hip.

  • Back about 1970 I was editor of my high school newspaper. I went to a seminar for budding journalists at what was then called North Texas State University.

    The speaker was Bill Moyers.

    He told us that not only was there no such thing as ‘objective journalism’, but that we as cub reporters had a duty to interpret the news in such a way so as to lead the mass in a ‘progressive’ direction.

    I mark that speech as the beginning of the end of ‘journalism’ in American.

    The second the internet became a real alternative to the local monopoly newspaper (Austin American Statesman in my case) I canceled my subscription. Now the only time I read the Statesman is when they throw a free copy on my doorstep, as they do fairly often.

    There are lots of good blogs I can read that are honest about their world view. And there are as many different worldviews as their are bloggers.

    The Statesman newsroom, on the other hand, seem to be stuck in a time warp. Every year is 1969, we are still in Viet Nam, and above all American is to blame for every sparrow that falls. If this world view was just on the editorial page, that would be one thing, but this academic left wing ‘progressive’ idea that their news reporting should tell us bitter gun clinging Christianists what we should think.

    It’s not worth 75 cents to read that kind of silly trash

  • Keith

    Newspaper journalists shouldn’t feel so bad, they were just first. The same thing is now happening to journalists at magazines, television stations and radio stations. The process is called disintermediation, and it is happening for all the reasons listed by others. Having said that, there will always be a need for informed, intelligent, unbiased people telling the rest of us information. If not unbiased, than at least biased but transparent about it.

    Now, if we can just get rid of self-righeous hollywood stars…

  • Bob

    Interesting dichotomy in the comments. Readers primarily complain about uninteresting, superficial and biased content. Journalists complain about the ungrateful public refusing to pay for their wisdom. Hello?

  • Pat

    Exactly, Bob. Journalists believe that they are a fourth branch of government — heroic, dedicated crusaders striving to make the world a better place — and that the rest of us owe them a living because they are such superior beings.

    We, on the other hand, think that they should be willing to EARN a living like the rest of us — by offering something of value that people would actually be willing to pay for.

    But they’re too busy trying to Change The World and Make A Difference for anything as dull and everyday as working for their paychecks, so we throw their worthless screeds in the trash and walk away.

  • lexgal

    i’m a retired bsj ’60 from a top-ranked j-school watching my profession disappear. and the ‘net is not the cause-effect, it is substantially the ‘after effect’. in the past 50 years, the bias has become so obvious to even the most clueless subscribers, why pay for front page agenda-driven propaganda?

    we were arrogant in the late ’50s, we j-school students. we agreed among ourselves that our knowledge of the world was ‘an inch deep and a mile wide’, but our self-importance overrode our ignorance. afterall, we were ‘trained’ and we would decide what was the ‘important news’ and what was to be kept from the public/voters.

    as joe kennedy said to jfk’s advance men during the primaries in ’60, “don’t buy another vote, i won’t pay for a landslide”, so goes the newspaper business today. hand-in-hand with the ‘educators’ and the union and party bosses, most of the mainstream media are trying to buy a landslide for the democrats in the coming election.

    fifty percent of the country ‘gets it’ and there goes nearly half of the newspaper subscribers. the rest read the comics and work the cross word puzzles.

  • I wonder if anyone is still reading comments this far down. Oh well.

    If anyone is, take a look at this post on a venture capitalist’s blog about the current market situation and then read through the comments.

    Compare that to Paul Krugman’s columns in the NYT.

    Journalists are screwed. You’ve got nothing to offer any more.

  • Jim

    Getting a journalism degree in 1973 was the worst mistake of my life. I quickly found out that there was no place on most newspapers for a Republican. In 1976, while getting my MBA, I worked the lobster trick on the copy desk of a major Northeast newspaper. Of the 16 on the desk, I was the only one that didn’t vote for McGovern, and the only one who didn’t vote for Carter. But back then there was at least an attempt to keep the staff’s left-wing biases out of the news hole. But that has not been the case since Reagan.
    ignorance of the subjects they cover (some reporters I deal with in my current career as a financial analyst try learn enough about the subject to avoid making fools of themselves, but many don’t), which destroys their credibility on straight news, is the least of the media’s current troubles. The liberal media’s lies and cover-ups about the Second Amendment, Waco, Hillary Clinton’s commodity trading, both Iraq wars, George Bush’s National Guard service, Valerie Plame, and Obama’s ties to know terrorists and rabid anti-Semites–among many other topics–have driven away millions of readers. Before the demise of Knight-Ridder, for example, I would not allow the Philadelphia Inquirer into my house because of its anti-Semitic attacks on Israel, which included publishing cartoons based on Nazi prototypes. I still don’t allow the filth published by their current owners in my house because one can’t even read the sports page without finding slurs aimed at Republicans.
    Mastering the internet will not save your jobs. I also don’t read your web sites; if I can’t believe anything in the print edition of the New York Times, why would I trust the same propaganda published anywhere else?

  • Bill W.

    Great thread and comments.

    Journaleasts have become reliable flacks and hacks, mostly far left. There are some reporters I respect. Claudia Rosette springs immediately to mind. I can’t think of any of the hair-dos on TV except maybe Stossel. Don’t want cable, so no comment there.

    “Working Reporter” is so concerned. Hey, hack. Want a Pulitzer?

    Who ghosted Obama’s books? What were his grades like? Who was Frank Davis? Was his mother a Communist? When did Obama meet Ayers? Who is ACORN? Why are they behind massive voter fraud? Where did Obama’s millions in small contributions come from? Who was his connection in high school, college, now? When was the last time he used illegal drugs, in what quantity? Are we getting ready to buy another Marion Barry? How did he get to Pakistan? What did he do there?

    These are just a few questions off the top of my head that have either drawn vague, misleading, or null responses from Obama. Surely a crack “Working Reporter” like yourself can pitch any of these stories to an editor and go find and write the story without parroting a Democratic press release. Surely you can. Just say it. Yes, we can. Go for it.

  • Shana

    Throw me in as one of the consumers who refuses to pay good money for bad trash.

    My family quite watching TV 8 years ago, and we completely quit newspapers about 6 years ago. I couldn’t stomach the crap. Manufactured crisis. Manufactured facts. Unapologetic shills for politicians who can screw up the whole US economy and get a pass — unless they have an ‘R’ after their names. Then they can’t even tell a bad joke to an old man without getting a full body cavity search by the press.

    You write with open disdain and hostility about people and institutions I support and ignore events I am interested in reading about. You openly make love to one candidate (and his party) and openly do your best to bury the other. You don’t investigate unless it suits your own agenda and it is obvious. You can’t be bothered to get facts straight and you openly twist facts/quotes/figures for progressive policies. If I complain, I’m not so politely told to get over it.

    Look, you need to face reality. Just stop the victim thing, stop the whinging about your buggy whip becoming irrelevant and simply face facts.

    Newspapers and TV news reporting SUCKS and people know it and won’t pay for it anymore.

    End of story.

  • Some random thoughts:

    It wasn’t journalists’ fault that afternoon newspapers died when the demographics, traffic patterns and news cycle changed. This is happening to other news sources, too. Yet there are still hundreds of afternoon newspapers, doing what they do because no one else can do it.

    The local newspaper outlasted Netscape.

    Even local newspapers’ Web sites, some of them, have lasted longer than Netscape existed.

    The cost of newsprint has no party affiliation.

    This site is experiencing an Instalanche, which ought to be a lesson to journalists who think the world hasn’t changed or shouldn’t change.

    Both liberals and conservatives think the media are biased, and both sides are often right about it, at the same time even.

    A biased newspaper is one that doesn’t share your biases.

  • madrof44

    You journalists: I’m your market, just the kind of liberal guy who took his opinions, view of the world, and purchasing decisions from the stack of papers that once arrived daily.

    But no more, sorry. Big journalism has become so predictable, its prose so dull and flashily self-referential, that my browser links take me to Europe and the Middle East. The NYT made thousands off me, even with my prof discount. If I find a copy on a plane or Starbunks I’ll move it wasy. Haven’t read a story of theirs in weeks.

    Some retort that that you got your stuff on-line early, even partnerships with AOL. Good for you. Others think you have a duty to the nation, well, let’s see if that translates into a duty to you.

    With the occasional exception of WAPO it’s obvious Big Media os in the bag: if Obama loses where is that going to leave you?

  • Kevin R.C. O’Brien

    Many have mentioned media bias as a contributing factor, either directly (driving readers away) or indirectly (sapping quality, thereby driving readers away). I think that the problem is less bias per se, than bias accompanied by propaganda claiming objectivity or neutrality. This has the effect of undermining consumer trust; “falso in uno, falso in omnes” (which is probably screwed-up Latin. But unlike a j-biz inmate, I’ll cop to my screwup).

    That’s only one part of the problem, though; as others have noted, disintermediation has obsoleted most of the daily paper.

    I suspect that papers can thrive by providing compelling writing and reporting, focused locally. It’s only a suspicion as they’re not trying it. Instead, they all seem to have ambitions to be national opinon publications. People can get more, better, and more timely opinion online. Also, people want to read opinions that they agree with; for one political tendency that amounts to about half of our nation, there’s as little comfort to be found in papers as the other political tendency finds in talk radio. So… in a challenging time when they need every eyeball they can get, the newspaper managers (editors and publishers, who control editorial slant) begin with an a priori determination to halve their potential market.

    Regular rocket surgeons, huh?

    Is there any evidence for this theory of mine? Perhaps. Look how badly papers that do a poor job of local reporting do. Two of the worst by that measure are the New York Times (tell me again why a paper that big has a sports section that bad? Do they not realize that some people buy their paper for the sports? Exercise for the editor: fire your favorite reporter and your least-liked sportswriter… count the complaint letters) and the LA Times (which as a matter of policy doesn’t even cover murders in LA, unless they’re white people and/or there’s a celebrity angle).

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  • JeanE

    I know almost nothing about newspapers except that I hardly ever read one. I remember my dad reading the papers every day, and clipping out articles of interest for his files. He still does, and he sends me articles about financing college, what parents of teens need to know about drugs, alcohol, etc. (I have two teenagers and Grandaddy is always looking out for them.)

    I used to read some of the special sections in the local paper- always interesting and useful information- but I hardly ever read news or editorial pieces. Why?- because I knew what they would say before I opened the paper. Every thinking person on the planet obviously held the same views based upon the same limited set of information, and I could pick that up from conversations. I didn’t always agree, but newspapers weren’t going to provide any info I didn’t already know.

    Along came the internet, and lo and behold I discovered a world of passionately held, reasonably argued and clearly presented ideas that were never even mentioned in the local or national papers. This was interesting! I didn’t always agree, but I sure did learn a lot. What’s more, I could follow links to original sources. Newspapers were boring because they filtered out all of the information that didn’t fit the story line- blogs were interesting because they often provided links to the article they disagreed with and links to the articles supporting their argument. More importantly, they don’t seem to condescend to their readers. Bloggers share their interests, observations and viewpoints. Newspapers sift out all the confusing and conflicting information and offer readers a simple story that will provide them all the information the journalists think they need to know about complex issues that are apparently beyond the grasp of the general public.

    Before the internet age, I at least felt a little guilty that I wasn’t reading the newspaper to keep up with current events. Now I know that I am better informed about a variety of issues than I would be if I spent the same time reading newspapers.

    Long before the internet came along, I had abandoned newspapers because journalists didn’t provide a product or a service that was sufficiently interesting and informative for me to spend my time reading the paper. Who exactly is responsible for that?

  • Blame and responsibility are not the same thing. Blame is the lower end of the scale. It’s finger pointing and fault finding. And it fits right in with that “victim of circumstance’ BS – someone else is to blame and I am the victim here.

    Responsibility implies the willingness to act and be causative. And more power to Jeff for being causative and looking for solutions.

    Jeff, I am very interested in the conference you have planned. Please let me know when you have more data.

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  • Maryel

    I have been reading newspapers practically since I learned to read and that was a very long time ago. I recently let my subscription lapse due to two reasons: (1) I am mightily tired of poorly written and edited stories. When I have to read a story 2 or 3 times to figure out the basic “who, what, when, where, and why”, I quit reading. Editing is a lost art…too many mispelled words, inaccurate words, phrasings, etc. Why make me pay for it when I can get it for free on the internet?; (2) And the primary reason is that I am weary of articles full of the journalists’ opinions masquarading as facts. I am capable of drawing my own conclusions, I don’t need yours.

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  • Pat

    Vietnam and Watergate were the death of journalism as an honorable profession. In the case of Vietnam, the news media were able to turn victory into defeat through the use of propaganda techniques. The U.S. military had not lost a single battle in the field, but the distorted view of the war presented by the media convinced the American people that it was a hopeless quagmire, and their political support for it evaporated.

    In the case of Watergate, the news media were able to drive a President from office by revealing his misdeeds and his attempts to hide them. The reporters who did this became celebrities as a result (and deservedly so).

    But beginning in the early ’70s, a new generation of journalists took the wrong lesson from these events. They concluded that toppling Presidents and changing the outcome of wars was their job. Journalism was no longer about seeking out the truth and reporting it accurately; it was about Making a Difference and Changing the World. Journalists became activists and advocates. Their mission was now to manipulate the public into doing what they (the journalists) wanted, through the use of propaganda techniques that would make Goebbels and Stalin proud.

    Today, we witness the spectacle of journalists openly working to sabotage the U.S. military by obtaining and publishing classified information. We see them overtly campaigning for the Democratic Party. We see them targeting Republicans with vicious, dishonest smear campaigns, while ignoring and even actively covering up the misdeeds of Democrats.

    Today, the word “journalism” means propaganda, subversion, sedition, and outright treason.

    Are journalists to blame for the downfall of their profession? Of course they are. They abandoned their original mission (to report the truth, accurately and unflinchingly) and betrayed our trust four decades ago. Now they stand revealed as partisan liars and radical wannabe revolutionaries. And they act surprised when they discover that no one trusts or believes them anymore.

    What did they expect?

  • Michael Litos

    I’ve got to say most of the issues discussed–most prominently bias and giving away the product–are big fat red herrings. While many aspects of delivery and consumption have changed, one thing has not: the reader wants to know stuff.

    The big problem is that journalists are putting themselves in the middle of the fray and that’s doing nothing but confusing the issue. It’s about the content. It always has, and it always will be.

    Who cares what the role of the journo was, collectively, in getting us here? At this point it is irrelevant. Heck, there’s a part of me that believes JJ doesn’t truly believe what he wrote and did so to generate this discussion to uncover these red herrings.

    Anyway…back to the main point that people want to know stuff. The reason for needing to understand concepts like the link economy and such is that people who used to read newspapers don’t specifically go to their newspaper website. I know I don’t. It isn’t a pure transition.

    When I want national news I hit Yahoo (or the like). Information of the local college basketball team is covered outside the local newspaper better. Restaurant reviews are covered well by local bloggers.

    It’s specialization and newspapers cannot provide that in a time where a motivated news and information gathering public–I hate the term “citizen journalists”–can provide specialized information better. This is why content aggregation, while an old term, is so important. The terms “journalist” and “newspaper” aren’t part of the answer.

    The guy Sotos is fairly close in his comment: when I want straight information I need to get it from the best possible source. If I need to understand something give me the facts and I can make my own decision. Other avenues can deliver specialized information better, and this isn’t the 1950s. I now have multiple sources to gain facts, at my fingertips. What the newspapers no longer have a monopoly on is my ability to do my own legwork and make my own decision.

    Journalism is not dead, but what passes as journalism is being redefined in a narrower scope. Access to information and the ability to make money off of that delivery is what needs to be solved.

    I’m not smart enough to know that answer, but I do think most of the discussion is a little like checking your tonsils after you twist an ankle.

    And all that said, there really isn’t much better on the face of the Earth than a hot cup of coffee and the Sunday paper.

  • Lots of good comment already but I need to add this:

    The fact that the stars grow dimmer at dawn does not cause the sun to rise.

    In other words, connection is not causality. Much of what you criticize about newsroom adaptation is correct, Jeff. But you are flat wrong to say that is the cause of today’s troubles.

    Keith Richards famously said, “I do not have a drug problem. I have a police problem.”

    Well, we do not have an audience problem. We have a revenue problem.

    McClatchy continues — yes, even today — to grow total audience (print readership plus unduplicated uniques) and our digital audiences are all growing at double-digit rates.

    Could we (should we, must we) do better as journalists? Absolutely

    Is all this the journalists’ fault? Bullshit.

  • gerryg

    I cancelled Time magazine years ago because it began to run fluff pieces as cover stories that were about ninnies like Madonna. I cancelled my local paper a few years later when I realized that every time I read something about which I was an expert, facts were substantially wrong that affected the tone and truth of the story.

    Journalists are no longer journalists: they are self-righteous, pompous know-nothings too lazy to do research properly, and they consider themselves superior to whatever they write about.

    That’s why people don’t trust them anymore: journalists have been caught too many times writing what is crap: lies, mistakes, half-truths, and spun truths…all the while admiring themselves in their mirrors.

  • Jeff Thomas

    A few questions for Peg, drawn from the construct presented by Kovach/Rosenstiel:

    Does a free society need information to remain free? If so, what tool besides journalism is to be used to provide that information?

    To what degree, if any, must that information be independent of its source in order to be considered reliable?

    If not to journalists, to whom should the job of verifying that information fall?

    As an aside, I am happy to report that our journalists, today, changed the world of some preschoolers and their parents who had their summerlong gardening project — a crop of pumpkins — stolen by thieves. As a result of our journalism, the community responded. As far as I know, no one gagged.

  • Howard,
    Isn’t some of it? Then how much? Does that matter? Who should have updated journalism and saved it? Ad salesmen? Mailers?

  • Pdog

    The media, print or otherwise are nothing more than bulletin boards for the government. The department of this and that sez bla bla blah.

  • Pat

    Howard Weaver writes:

    “Well, we do not have an audience problem. We have a revenue problem.

    McClatchy continues — yes, even today — to grow total audience (print readership plus unduplicated uniques) and our digital audiences are all growing at double-digit rates.”

    Audience figures are easy to inflate, and have nothing to do with revenue, which comes from advertisers. How is McClatchy’s ad revenue doing? Tell me that’s growing and I’ll be impressed.

    “Is all this the journalists’ fault? Bullshit.”

    So whose fault is it, Howard, that your profession is routinely ranked below politicians and used car salesmen when people are polled on how who they trust and how much?

    Who did that to you, if you didn’t do it to yourselves?

  • chuck

    I cancelled Time magazine years ago because it began to run fluff pieces as cover stories that were about ninnies like Madonna. I cancelled my local paper a few years later when I realized that every time I read something about which I was an expert, facts were substantially wrong that affected the tone and truth of the story.

    That’s pretty much my story too. I stopped watching network news in the 80’s and let my Time subscription lapse in 1994. No matter what the medium, crap is the message.

  • Jeff–always insightful and provocative, but much of the blame you lay on “journalists” is off target. In a traditional business structure, the journalist is the worker. How to organize newsrooms is not the privilege of a beat reporter. The assembly line worker at Ford has as much to do with the economic woes of Ford as the workaday journalist has to do with the declining circulation at [choose your favorite paper].

    True, the journalist could build networks and generally be more adaptive to the economic trends, but so can the auto worker. Individual (as opposed to industry) inability to adapt to technology and shifting economics isn’t the cause of newspaper woe, but the result of it.

    Jeff, if you will allow a tangent–at the risk of sounding like an unconstructed paleo-Marxist, (or worse– an academic), take into account the relationship of labor (the journalist) to the capital before assigning blame. And although I love new technology (where would I be without it), I don’t see how a new networked, collaborative freelancing class of reporter (one without healthcare) is all good.

  • Zainuddin Banatwala

    Walter Abbot said on october 8th. “Newspapers (or as I prefer now to call them – paper information distribution systems – PIDS)”. Newspapers are not PIDS the correct acronym is – PISS – paper information segregation system. Conservative good news is segregated and flushed down the memory hall along with bad news about Liberals. I stopped taking the local paper when it ran a headline that said “Tax cuts would rob the government….” Whose money is it anyway?

  • Bob

    “In a traditional business structure, the journalist is the worker. How to organize newsrooms is not the privilege of a beat reporter. The assembly line worker at Ford has as much to do with the economic woes of Ford as the workaday journalist has to do with the declining circulation at [choose your favorite paper].”

    Not really. Unlike the Ford worker, the journalist designs the product. Read the comments; those of us who no longer read newspapers or watch network TV did not make that choice because we think your delivery system is obsolete. We made that choice because the product you created was revealed as crap once we had access to more information than you provide.

    Packaging the old, lazy, superficial and biased product into a modern container is not going to save you. As somebody else noted above, it’s a self-inflicted wound.

  • Ken Robinson

    The fault is the proprietors. They allowed editors and reporters to treat assets as if they were a blog site. Fantastically political writing became standard. The Washington Post is a classic example. Radical staff and editors thoroughly alienated the much more conservative, “traditional values” suburbs — where the bulk of the population and economic action is to be found. At present, the Post staff is alienating between 40 and 100 readers A DAY, nonstop — because no one in management has told these people to stop.

    It is quite possible to leave one’s audience guessing how one voted in the last election. Look at the Wall Street Journal. But those papers where management refuses to exercise control — the Washington Post, LA Times, and Boston Globe, for instance. Are doomed.

  • Andy Freeman

    > To what degree, if any, must that information be independent of its source in order to be considered reliable?

    In what universe does independence have anything to do with reliability?

    Even if it did, journalists are notoriously bad at detecting independence. At best, they find critics.

    > If not to journalists, to whom should the job of verifying that information fall?

    Journalists don’t verify information. At best they find someone to cite.

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  • Jeff Thomas


    re independence: when residents of a town must rely upon the mayor as the source of information about city government, the information he/she provides is not independent. The mayor has an interest in the information. Hence, its reliability (as to whether the mayor’s information is true) can be regarded as suspect. If you’re the CEO of Acme Widgets, do you rely upon the quarterly newsletter published by ABC Widgets to get intelligence about your competitor? Or do you get it from independent sources such as WidgetBlog, the Wall Street Journal, etc.?

    Journalists don’t exist to “detect” independence. Journalists are, or should be, independent of the sources they cover.

    But if society decides it does not need, in order to function, information independent of self interest, then that is one less reason for society to need journalists. But society then will need to figure out how to get reliably true information about, say, the mayor and city government.

    re verification: Indeed journalists do verify information. It is the ingredient that separates journalism from all other forms of communication. Fiction doesn’t verify. Polemic doesn’t care about veracity veracity in the first place, nor does propaganda. Documentarians and bloggers may or may not verify. Only journalists exist to report what can be reported as true. “The essence of journalism,” Kovach/Rosentsiel put it, “is the discipline of verification.” Verification is, or ought to be, more than the mere contraposition of viewpoints by opposing sources. Verification is being an eyewitness when possible; finding eyewitnesses when not. It’s examining original documents, or assembling raw data. Etc.

    In one of its most dramatic forms, for example, verification gets wrongly convicted people off death row.

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  • Evil Pundit

    Jeff Thomas, there are two problems with your argument.

    (1) Journalists are not independent. They are ideological actors, 90% of whom favour the Democratic Party. They are the problem, not the solution.

    (2) Journalists do not verify facts. They simply use whatever information will further their political ends.

    Journalism is not in the business of providing true information. It is providing propaganda.

    Consequently, a society without journalism as it exists today, will be a better informed society.

  • As someone who was a full-time writer and photographer for newspapers for 15 years, I really didn’t have much time to slant news. I was too busy PRODUCING a lot of artcles and photos for not a heck of a lot of money.

    Today I plan to open my own photography business and do freelance work for publications. I am glad I did both photos and articles for all those years.

    When blogs came out, I was too afraid to put journal-ish type writing on it because 1) I didn’t have much time to do this and 2) it was nobody’s business. Today, I have a Web site, photo blog and pages. I enjoy working on all of them.

    There are blogs of all sorts and some of them are wonderful. Unfortunately, some people equate somebody’s sheer opinion with fact. It was never my job to inject my own views in stories. The times I had a conflict, though, was when I wrote columns. Some of my editors won’t write columns to keep their own views to themselves. I think the only column I wrote at my last newspaper job was one about my departure from that position.

    The best bloggers are those who truly know how to write and produce amazing (yes, amazing) photos. I have an ex-coworker who has a super blog and continues to write for a newspaper full-time. He has a bachelor’s degree from a, oh heaven forbid, J-school. He knows what he’s doing and I respect that.

    I don’t regret all that hard work despite the non-stellar income. I know full well I did my best, as did many of my coworkers.

    When I look at some of the articles I wrote and the photos I shot in the past, I can feel all the dedication, passion and truly caring attitude I had in the communities where I was employed. I can’t express the happiness I had working my last job in Hutto, Texas.

    I sat through countless county commissioners’ meetings, city council meetings, school board meetings and all other types of events that directly impact citizens. If people stop caring about local news or what’s going on in their communities, that’s sad and scary. I really don’t know that many straight bloggers who come to meetings to write about what actually happened at them, although some do. It was your hometown newspaper writer who was, and still is in most cases, showing up for life.

  • Andy Freeman

    Thomas apparently has problems with “In what universe does independence have anything to do with reliability?”

    How about an example. My cat is an independent source of information about CA’s spending on education. Is she a reliable source?

    Note that independent sources may well have agendas.

    Then again, journalists as a class haven’t figured out that true belief is a greater source of corruption than money. (Folks who are bought don’t actually care, so they’re less intense, active, and motivated than the believers.) In that, they’re like little kids watching a school play – if they just believe, Tinkerbelle will live.

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  • Tom

    I go to newspapers for a news overview/summary and a bit of opinion and blogs for detail on niche topics I’m interested in learning more about. You can only read so much each day. For that reason if I can buy my favourite paper in print form I will do so rather than read it for free online. If not, I’ll buy the local paper of wherever I happen to be and read my favourite one online.

    I happen to think newspapers have embraced the Internet, but then I’m from the UK and the competitive news market there means it’s home to the best and most advanced online offerings. (The best by far being The Guardian, IMO.) As for journalists, I think journalists are just having a hard time adjusting to the fact that the Internet makes it plainly obvious that, for every professional writer, there are hundreds of amateurs who can write just as well, and who, with a bit of training, could be perfectly good full-time journalists. I think many are insecure. However I don’t begrudge them their living as they still care enough about journalism to do it full-time, unlike all the part-time amateurs and wannabees. So handing over a very small amount of money each day for a newspaper isn’t a big deal.

  • DBX

    I agree it is journalists, but not quite in the way that you think. Everybody, even the Guardian in Britain, was guilty of screwing up the business model of online and giving Google and craigslist way too big an opportunity. But in journalists’ case, the flaws are a pre-existing condition. Journalists, or at least people who try to distinguish themselves with that term, all too often pursue a hidden agenda, are lazy, practice “he-said, she-said” reporting that privileges ridiculous attacks from corrupt politicians by giving them equal time with the truth, and just generally miss the boat on major stories by not doing investigative work and depending on official sources and press releases.

    The reason this comes to mind is that while I am now finishing a PhD, I used to work for a newspaper. A weekly. A weekly that has been guilty of a complete lack of interactivity and blogging-related activities on its web site. And yet a weekly that didn’t exist before 1989, grew healthily when I was there and continues to grow. Why? It certainly isn’t due to lack of competition; it’s in a brutally competitive market. It isn’t due to specialization either; it’s a general interest weekly, with news, obits, features, sports, opinion and so on. (But very little “lifestyle” pablum)

    The real reason is that the news/features/sports etc content is outstanding, beating bigger rivals to big stories, doing actual investigative work, and being relevant to our readers, and not filling up the paper with airheaded drivel, and also not pursuing vendettas like a lot of small town papers do and even some bigger ones.

    And because the content is so good, my former paper gets away with the utter lack of interactivity on the web site. The “new model for journalism” that the Internet provides is basically all about interactivity, but it is important to remember that it is merely a nice added feature, not a substitute for real journalism. Being interactive about the city council’s street maintenance or about all the programs that are going to get cut because of the state’s budget deficit is actually valuable to readers; being interactive about Paris Hilton or about the latest press release from the governor badly disguised as a news article is a waste of bandwidth.

  • Jeff Thomas


    If journalism (and by extension, journalists) in fact behaves the way you describe, then yes, journalism has ceased to be a useful tool for people to obtain the information they need.

    Journalists are *supposed* to be independent. It is essential to maintaining trust in the information the public hires journalists to provide.

    Journalists are *supposed* to verify information — to sort out the true from the false. If they fail at this, journalism cannot perform its function.

    And if the public has decided journalism has stopped functioning (for the reasons you allege or others), the public must decide what other tool it will use to obtain the information it needs, and who they will will trust to provide it. That is the impetus for my original question: if the public has decided journalism as we have known it has failed, what new thing will perform its function?


    Again, it is not *sources* (such as your cat) that must be independent for journalism to function properly; it is *journalists* who must be independent of their sources for journalism to function properly. I’m pretty sure that’s what I said when I said journalism doesn’t exist to *detect* independence (in your cat or any other creature), but to *be* independent itself.

    Example: education spending in California. Which information would the public find most useful when trying to make a decision:
    A) A statement from the California superintendent of education
    B) Verified facts from an independent actor. In other words, a journalist

    And if not B, what?

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  • @Jeff Thomas:

    Example: education spending in California. Which information would the public find most useful when trying to make a decision:
    A) A statement from the California superintendent of education
    B) Verified facts from an independent actor. In other words, a journalist

    Well, I think it would depend on the actor. George Clooney would probably say something pretty intelligent-sounding, and he did direct Good Night, and Good Luck. But I wouldn’t ask David Arquette.

  • I’m sure the operators of carriages were delivering excellent service when the invention of the car started to eat away at their business. Change can sneak up on an industry and now newspapers are trying to survive in a society that is hungry and impatient for news.

    Here’s a good example of a company that adapted to change: UPS. It started out as a company that made deliveries on bicycles. Less than 100 years later, it’s global.

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  • I worked at newspapers for 22 years and got out 13 years ago, just in time.

    The death of newspapers is as much a fault of the journalists as it is the business side. I blame it on these four factors:

    –Media bias. Many examples are listed above. Read “Bias” by Bernard Goldberg, the best book written on this topic.

    –An obsession by the business side to keep investors happy, instead of readers.

    –Lousy customers service, from the circulation department to the newsroom.

    –An inability to embrace change and alter the business model. On the advertising side, newspapers have let Craigslist take away millions of dollars in classified ad revenue. On the news side, the Oct. 13 issue of PR Week says “The social media craze has exploded so rapidly that many press outlets are still developing their strategies for covering it.”

  • ” it is *journalists* who must be independent of their sources for journalism to function properly.”

    Well-said. I know many journalists who have remained true to their craft and who are relatively blameless for journalism’s demise. Others, not so much.

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  • Vladimir Wordsmith’ry

    JARVIS, JEFF: Bloviatory Baby Boomer desperate for finger/pulse cyber-cred.

    SEE ALSO: Lefsetz, Bob; irrelevant; tired; old; geriatric; fading; mind-thuddingly insignificant in any serious Internet journalism-related discussion; chicken broth, ancient addled mind cured in; dead horse on the information superhighway; rusted buzz; list of Time Warner employees who consider ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY among their accomplishments even though they were fired from ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY long before ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY culturally mattered.

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  • Good…Carry on Jeff. I think a debate on this generally neglected subject is very useful. Media does play a crucial role in helping democracy retain its vibrancy and health.

    Media is a powerful tool to educate/prepare the public to wage the real war against terrorism at the grassroots level.

    I believe that the demise of real print journalism began in the newsrooms where the authority of the NEWS EDITOR, and sub editors, was taken away. The unsupervised reporters began to call the shots and we can see the results.

    The reason for the demise of NEWS EDITOR are many. But it helped the newspaper owners/management to smuggle in what is described as advertorials. The free mixing of opinions/manipulations in hard news led to the fall of credibility of the newspapers.

    NEWS EDITOR used to be the “Sergeant Major” directly in touch with the ground realities and leading the charge. He had to manage the juniors under him and resist the machinations of the Editor and the newspaper owners/management.

    Neutralizing of the NEWS EDITOR has led to major aberrations in the newspaper industry.

    Now readers find it difficult to differentiate between opinions, news or advertisements. Earlier the newspapers ensured that a particular section of the newspaper would carry objective news, the other section would carry opinions and the place for advertisements was fixed too.

    However, I do not share the doom and gloom prophecy for newspapers. They have survived for over 200 years…and would do so even now, although in a quite a different incarnation.

    My post on the subject appears here…

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  • Rob

    Wow! So many comments yet your problem is laid out in black and white in the article itself:

    “A Gallup survey says 52 percent of Americans do not trust news media, up from 30 percent in 1972.”

    Gee, let’s see, half the population thinks you’re brazen liars. Okay? You with me? Then the internet comes along to provide an alternative. Still following? Now guess what happens next.

    Yea guess. I realize you’re just journalists but I can’t spoon feed you all day. Go ahead and guess.

    If you still can’t figure it out try scratching your head while concentrating real hard.

  • J. Patrick McGrail

    Mr. Jarvis:

    I’m afraid I don’t accept your central thesis, i.e. that journalists themselves are the (or a) primary cause of the demise of print reportage. Transformations in information delivery have been so swift, so prevalent and so multi-dimensional that the objective, double-sourced, narrowly focused product of the journalist has had to compete with the opinion-laced, secondarily-sourced, provocatively worded opinion pieces that many people confuse with shoeleather journalism. Ironically, the very thing that is capsizing traditional journalism – the rise of blogging – gets the grist for its mill from the very journalists that provide it with source content.
    But let’s sift that grist for a bit. I think we need to draw some distinctions. I don’t know anyone who believes that the NYT is going to go away anytime soon. That’s because it’s a “national” paper, that only ancillarily has Gotham as its local beat. It has money and the resources to maintain foreign bureaus, and it can compete toe to toe with the wire services.
    No, the real problem is more with local print-based journalism. It’s suffering because people now really can get most of the info they need locally online, for the first time ever. As recently as five years ago, this wasn’t the case. If you wanted to know what nightclub or opera was hot in, say, Syracuse, NY or Altoona, PA, you had to pick up either the local paper or the alternative weekly, if it existed. Now, however, nearly any sort of info about nearly any kind of entertainment can be found online. That’s because the venues now advertise themselves online, without the medium of the newspaper. Or they piggyback on one of those “Altoona at Nite” local happenings websites. Cheaper, and they get to control the content more. You just google the name of the club, opera or gardening event, and you get a website.
    So how come online papers haven’t worked? This is a surprisingly complex problem, and has to do with behavior differences in the public and the history of the internet, among other things.
    The net began with the idea that things would be freely shared, and that seems to have cultivated in the consumer a reluctance to pay for anything if he doesn’t absolutely have to. Both the NYT and the Wall Street Journal have flirted with subscriptions, with very, very limited success. Right now, all NYT content is free, and much of WSJ content is.
    Another issue is that we may believe (at our core, biologically -whatever) that we should always pay for something that physically exists, like a paper. But something that’s just pixels on a screen? Nah. Remember, it took cable a long time to convince people to pay for content that they could get with their rabbit ears for free. And the internet gets better reception than rabbit ears OR cable.
    Throw in the incredible ease and anonymity with which people can share the rantings and non sequiturs they call opinions (newspapers almost always require name and address for letters to the editor, so as to avoid such irresponsible opinion-mongering) and you have a recipe for a great, inky black and white newshole, disappearing before our very eyes.
    Lurking amid all of the above is that snarky little disciplinarian, objectivity. Journalism is supposed to be about the facts, but the net and its denizens care little for this value, and this disadvantages journalists. Mr. Jarvis, you appear to be saying that journalists failed to “sex up” their coverage, to link to everything, give a bit of opinion in the soupcon, follow a story beyond its newsworthiness, etc. Maybe you’re right. But at some point, the journalism you would be talking about wouldn’t be journalism.
    I haven’t even talked about how Hollywood, for some reason, nearly always lampoons journalists in its fictional pieces. They are portrayed as self-absorbed sleazemeisters after the next juicy tidbit. Absent always from such musings is the role of the public in desiring this fare.
    Nope, newspapers were doomed no matter what journalists did. The world has begun to demand divertment and leisure with its accounting of facts. Some of us, who teach our students to revere the gathering of facts, are having trouble prostrating before the new gods, Gossip and Rumour.

    J. Patrick McGrail
    Dept. of Communication
    Jacksonville State University
    Jacksonville, AL 36265

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  • What an affecting take on this subject. I am glad you shared your ideas and I find myself agreeing. I appreciate your clear writing and the effort you have put into this post. Thanks for the good work and good luck with the blog, I greatly look forward to future updates.

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