Black and White and Dead All Over

By Al Giordano

When I left the commercial media behind in 1996, sixty percent of American citizens still read a newspaper daily.

In thirteen short years that number has dwindled to 30 percent.

Where did all the readers go? We took them with us to the Internet. Chances are, if you're reading these words, you're one of them.

My, how the tables have turned: Many of the same daily newspaper correspondents that not too long ago turned up their noses at us online journalism pioneers, claiming we weren't "real" journalists, now fill my email box daily with their resumes, looking to me and others like me to provide them with work.

In late June, I’ll be addressing the 32nd annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies in Tucson, Arizona. The title of my talk will be The Authentic Journalism Renaissance: North and South of the Border, and is billed as "observations on how independent journalism is thriving on the Internet and in other parts of the hemisphere even as the daily newspaper industry fades to black,” with thoughts on how “alternative newsweeklies can continue to play an important role in society and survive while many dailies do not, and… some counsel on how they can make that happen.” You just know I'm looking forward to that.

Now that the dirty little secret of the daily newspaper industry’s terminal illness is the subject of Congressional hearings and so much public chatter, let me do some thinking out loud on those themes.

In the past two years, the following daily newspapers have shut their doors: The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, the Baltimore Examiner, The Cincinnati Post, The Albuquerque Tribune, The Kentucky Post, among others, reports Newspaper Death Watch, a wonderful little website online newspaper with a masthead that declares: “Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism.”

Meanwhile, others including The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Detroit News/Detroit Free Press, Madison Wisconsin’s Capital Times, and The Christian Science Monitor have shifted much of their operations from newsprint to the Internet.

And now comes the terminal case that has the industry’s panties most in a bunch: The Boston Globe, bought out years ago by The New York Times, is now living month to month. The owners threaten the workers that if they don’t buckle under and do more work for less pay – to the tune of $20 million dollars in cuts to their wages and benefits - the cash cow will be sent to the butcher shop.

My great love for what newspapers once were and ceased to be, plus nine years here at Narco News, along with my own small role in breaking their monopoly on First Amendment protections, informs my vicarious pleasure at watching these bastions of power and hubris fall like leaves off an autumn tree. Society will be a better place when they’re gone. Out with the bath water and good riddance.

I grew up reading a New York Times that no longer exists: Tom Wicker reporting from the Attica prison truthfully and in solidarity with the rebelling inmates, Max Frankel ordering expensive investigations into government wrongdoing, the publication of The Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, and I’ll never regret following music critic John Rockwell down Bleeker Street to The Bowery and through those graffiti-covered doors into the future that we inhabit today. 

As one who, last year, finally weaned myself off the New York Times Crossword Puzzle - the last section of the Gray Lady that held my attention -  I understand that old habits and routines die hard, and that my crocodile tears for the putrid newspaper industry are not well received by all. There is something familiar and comfortable – like warm apple pie – in opening one’s door in the morning and staining one’s fingers with ink. There was a time when reading the local daily made us feel part of something bigger than ourselves: a community, a city, or a metropolitan area. Newspapers used to be the glue that held communities together. Not so much any more.

This week, there were US Senate hearings at which my old pal John Kerry lamented what I, conversely, cheer: "Today, newspapers look like an endangered species." The publisher of the Dallas Morning News called for government tax breaks and legislation to make web sites pay rent when they link to an online newspaper article. The former Baltimore Sun reporter, now TV producer, David Simon calls us “parasites” that are “slowly killing the host.” Oh, piss off, Mr. Simon. I’ll dance on the grave of your industry’s effing corpse. 

Memo to my remaining daily print colleagues and their nostalgia club: Get over it and get over yourselves. It’s not that the Internet is Mr. Wonderful. Much of it mimics the same bad qualities that drove the public away from daily newspapers. You lost the public to us because - there's no nice or sugar-coated way to say it - you guys really suck at what you do. In your arrogance, you established calcified “rules” of “journalism” and false “objectivity” that neutered and spayed all of your reporters, domesticated so they would never again afflict the comfortable or comfort the afflicted. When you took the honest advocacy out of reporting you emptied it of all passion and reason to exist. It was a nice ride on your profit ledger sheet during the recent decades when you turned your rags into propaganda arms for the wealthy and powerful, but a funny thing happened on the way to the ATM machine: You lost the trust of your readers, half of whom have already given you the finger and pursued alternate routes to inform themselves of current events. And the rest are on the way through the same EXIT sign.

Meanwhile, David Simon’s peewings are hurt. He told the Senate committee: “I am offended to think that anyone, anywhere believes that American institutions as insulated, self-preserving, and self-justifying as police departments, school systems, legislatures, and chief executives can be held to [account] by amateurs, pursuing the task without compensation, training, or for that matter, sufficient standing to make public officials even care to whom it is they are lying or from whom they are withholding information."

Offended, he is. Offended! And I am laughing out loud that defenders of “American institutions as insulated, self-preserving, and self-justifying” as daily newspapers think they’re anything special or at all different from the institutions that Simon describes. As a beat reporter who has covered hundreds of those city council and school board meetings, legislative sessions, court cases, etcetera, I’ve read just as many stories in the next day’s daily by those with such overrated “compensation, training (and)… sufficient standing to make public officials even care,” and have wondered, again and again, what meeting or hearing (or planet!) those “professionals” had attended because their write-ups didn’t at all reflect the realities that I witnessed and heard at each event.

Simon’s focus on government institutions betrays the real problem with his mindset in an age when the private sector has superceded the powers of the State in so many areas of daily life: Newspapers are corporations and naturally allied with all other profit-motive ventures. They may sometimes report a good story about malfeasance in the private sector, but they will never touch, not even with the petal of a rose, the systemic causes of matters like the current economic crisis because they’re invested in the same mechanisms: stock marketeering, mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, outsourcing, union-busting and unregulated market rules that encourage playing fast-and-loose with the truth.

When I wrote my declaration of independence from commercial media in 1996 – The Medium Is The Middleman: For a Revolution Against Media – oh, how they snickered. Well, who’s laughing now, chumps?

I’ll take a passionate citizen’s reports or blog entries about a city council meeting or a court case over a daily newspaper reporter’s any day of the week because the “rules” that tie those reporters down make them as boring as they are banal and dependent on official sources to spoon feed them the daily spin. Too many bright young journalists have already been destroyed – “boiled and seasoned” with the passion and idealism beaten out of them – by entering daily newspaper staffs. Those that survive, working their way up to editorial and decision-making positions, did so only because they became dysfunctional automaton cogs in the monstrous beast.

The beast is wounded now, limping, and lashing out as it goes down. The sooner the process is completed the quicker that spaces will open up for citizen-journalists to pick up the pieces and carry on the Authentic Journalism Renaissance. We’ve been doing that for nine years now at Narco News, a different kind of daily newspaper, with or without newsprint, that has already supplanted the foreign desks at US dailies throughout the hemisphere. Because once readers have tasted a more authentic truth, they don’t go back to Brand X.

The daily newspaper industry lost this war in less than a decade because it had become, in Simon’s words, an “insulated, self-preserving, and self-justifying” institution. And while they were busy patting themselves on the back up there in their imaginary Olympus, and marginalizing everyone else, a better mousetrap was invented.

 

Comments

Great, great post.

Great, great post.

Time, capitalism and the Spanish language press

I like this Al but there are a few things you don't mention. One is that the demise of print journalism is not just due to the advent of the internet (as well as to the increasing "popularization" and corporatization of print journalism), but also to the fact that time escapes most of us. When we were growing up we had more time, our parents had more time, we had the leisure to read the paper every morning. That ended for me some years ago. I wish I commuted by train just so I had downtime. I'd much rather have a paper (or a magazine like the Nation) in my hands than get my news from the internet. When I began to throw out newspapers instead of reading them, that was the end of that. I only get the Sunday NYT, I rarely have a chance to read the whole thing, and it usually pisses me off anyway (especially when they include glossy inserts full of over-the-top expensive items; ridiculous suggestions about travel; or dumb op-ed pieces about the end of tenure). So for me the really sad thing is to watch print journalism losing the battle with capitalism. The same thing happened with quality network television (my father was a documentary film producer for ABC until it was bought out years ago by Capital Cities, even before its - what - Disneyfication).

The second thing is that Spanish language newspapers are actually thriving in places like New York. I can't remember the reasons for this but it seems that less internet access, more time (maybe because of underemployment, but still more time) and perhaps a culture that is still print-oriented helps these print newspapers survive.

A look back

You write:

"I grew up reading a New York Times that no longer exists: Tom Wicker reporting from the Attica prison truthfully and in solidarity with the rebelling inmates, Max Frankel ordering expensive investigations into government wrongdoing, the publication of The Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, and I’ll never regret following music critic John Rockwell down Bleeker Street to The Bowery and through those graffiti-covered doors into the future that we inhabit today."

A lot of us did, Al, and I'm afraid it was precisely then that the seeds of the present demise were planted, long before blogs were a twinkle in the ARPAnet's eye. When they hired William Safire, speechwriter to Spiro Agnew, I knew something was wrong; the same goes for the elevation of Abe Rosenthal to Executive Editor a few years later. Subsequent abominations, like the obsession with the Whitewater "scandal" and the "reporting" of Judith Miller, likely grew from those earlier ones.

 

Less propaganda

I loved the article as it took no prisoners and made me laugh. I totally agree that the mainstream newspapers deserve to go out of business. I haven't read a newspaper for years because they are so full of propaganda and lies. I wouldn't give any of those corrupt journalists a job if I was in your position Al.

Al Giordano

Bravo...

The real bonus

Look at all those trees we're saving by not printing those rags anymore. 

the mediated

I read this...

"We, the mediated, fuel the Screen's power through our attention, our consumption of its products and, increasingly, our mediated creativity and labor. Media turns its producers and consumers into mere cogs in its machinery, making us less than human in the process."

...and decided to turn off my machine and go get my children...after posting a comment!

Great post

Very well articulated, Al.

Oh, Happee Daaay ♫ ♫ ♫

I could not agree with you more.

The publisher of the Dallas Morning News called for government tax breaks and legislation to make web sites pay rent when they link to an online newspaper article.

Shmuck: those links delayed your demise.

When?

When was the last time that conventional media scooped the web? Therein lies the problem and the reason for their demise.

For example

Again I am reminded of how boneheaded most commercial media organizations are these days in the aftermath of the presidential elections in Panama. The victory of right-wing supermarket tycoon is by most media - from Reuters, which has a correspondent down here who is mediocre at best, to the Latin American Business Chronicle - touted as a rejection of the "left leaning" government and candidate of the PRD party. The truth is that there IS no left-leaning party in Panama. The PRD is a bunch of former Noriega thugs and drinking buddies mixed with rogue oligarchs, who adore military style government and take care of their own exclusively. What Panamanians rejected is massive corruption, militarization of the country and an inequality in the distribution of wealth that is only matched by Brazil on the entire continent. But none of the major news organizations got that story.

Required reading

This should be required reading at Journalism schools.  As a former BigMedia "cog" who also left in disgust to start "my own thing," I couldn't agree more.

Very few journalists nowadaze, at least at BigMedia outlets, realize that their job is to pursue the truth in any topic they cover.  It's not about presenting the fabled "two sides to every story," especially when one of those sides is clearly false.  Not to mention the fact that there's 20 or more sides to every story.  Jeezus, that line used to drive me crazy in the newsroom...

And yes, I always said too that this derilection of duty by these "journalists" would result in the death of their industry.  It's happening right before our eyes.

Perhaps a good time to remind folks of the "Make a Donation" button on the upper right of this page.

Three Cheers for Authentic Journalism

My favorite part of your post:  "You lost the public to us because - there's no nice or sugar-coated way to say it - you guys really suck at what you do. In your arrogance, you established calcified “rules” of “journalism” and false “objectivity” that neutered and spayed all of your reporters, domesticated so they would never again afflict the comfortable or comfort the afflicted."

The last part of "comfort the afflicted" reminded me of a line in the very long Marian Year Prayer that we used to have to say sometimes after the Rosary. :) 

After reading your thoughts on it, I guess I am a believer that I can live without the paper.  I gave up on the local papers some time ago but had subscribed to the NYT Sunday paper up until a year or so ago when, because of both the cost and the fact that I didn't really enjoy most of it, I cancelled my subscription.  For me the Sunday NYT was like being on a date with a gorgeous but "not to bright" man.  You look forward to the date when you wake up and are so happy when it shows up on your doorstep looking all fine only to realize later, trying to converse over coffee, that there's nothing in there. 

So your post was therapeutic to force me to acknowledge that authentic journalism in print form really hasn't existed for some time and the trade-off is just a difference of computer screens instead of ink-stained fingers.

 

 

David Simon

I'm curious whether you watched the final season of Simon's, The Wire.  In it he shows the Baltimore Sun to be exactly the corrupt wasteland all the other Baltimore institutions are.

I listened to Simon give his testimony.  I didn't completely agree with him, but I thought he made some good points.  I worked as a volunteer journalist for both WBAI in New York and KPFA in Berkeley (as well as WORT in Madison).  WBAI and KPFA produced hour-long news programs five days a week and half-hour programs on Saturday and Sunday.  Generally, there were two paid staffers and each night about six volunteers.  This worked well, and we covered a very broad slice of state and local news, including zoning board hearings and the police department.

The reporting KPFA broadcast on the execution of Robert Alton Harris was so head and sholders above anything the commercial media produced, there was no comparison.  And KPFA's coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake was better pick-up journalism than I have ever seen anywhere.  And you can look at the work my KPFA colleagues Aron Glanz and Christian Parenti have continued to produce to see how good non-profit, non-elite, journalism can be.

But Simon is also right that you have to have a way to generate the money needed to pay at least some full-time people to coordinate things, to train volunteers, to assign them stories, and to help fill them in on what is really going on. Having an institution, a community, to work within provides inspiration and collective memory. And being a reporter for an entity that has a name does help get one's phone calls returned, which is essential if you are really going to report a story.

So I had no problem with Simon's advocacy of a non-profit model for providing the news.  His main point was, afterall, not that newspapers and network news is essential.  Simon was very harsh on those institutions.  Simon neglected to mention that there is a lot of substantial, sustained non-commercial journalism being produced all around the globe.  But he was right to make the point that good, sustained, journalism really does cost money and we are going to have to find a way to fund it.

The day the daily newspaper died

Charles Bowden on the Legacy of Gary Webb

As I was smoking a cigarette on my patio the other night, thinking about Gary Webb and how everything I stood for in journalism was now quaking under my feet, I recalled that Gary told me there was one person, in particular, that he trusted completely: journalist Chuck Bowden.

... Bowden understood what Gary had gone through, how his life's work had been ripped away from him.

"All he wanted to do was write for a newspaper," Bowden said.

Bowden recalled that he first met Gary in a hotel bar in April 1998 while doing the research for the Esquire story. He had already fact checked Gary's Mercury News series and it was all panning out. So he flew out to Sacramento to interview Gary for Esquire.

"He (Gary) was drinking Maker's Mark whiskey," Bowden recalled, "and I remember he slapped his hand down on the table and said, 'I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I believe in conspiracies.'

"I thought, 'I like this guy.' He believed in facts, not theories. In other words, this is."

Bowden added that over the past year, Gary made yet another push to land a job at a major daily. Again, he struck out.

So when Bowden heard that Gary had recently begun writing for the weekly Sacramento News & Review, he thought maybe it was a sign of things turning around for him.

But it was too little, too late. This past weekend, Gary decided to kick the closed door down and move on.

"In a daily newspaper sense, Gary was the best investigative reporter in the country," Bowden said. "And he was unemployable.

"That tells me all I need to know about this business I'm in. You can get a paycheck every two weeks, as long as you don't draw blood."

 

Agreed

A couple of points.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is now strictly an on-line paper, and not much at that.  (The P-I was our "liberal" paper and in fact did have some good reporting - for example, regarding Iraq during sanctions, the foreign news editor, Larry Johnson, traveled to Iraq with photographers (and a couple of friends of mine), and came back and wrote good and long features about it.)

One other thing has troubled me.  When I was growing up, reading the paper in the morning was a family affair.  When you stood in the check-out lines at the supermarket, there would be news magazines to pick up, and many did.  Now in the check-out lines your choices are all the gossip/entertainment rags or worse.  If customers wanted the news magazines, I feel the stores would comply. 

I hope a lot of Americans >are< getting news from the internet.  I just feel most of them are uninterested about real news of any sort, or about what's going on in the world or at home.  Maybe there needs to be more pain before that changes (which pain is sure to come).

Still, I bless the web (and favorite newspaper reporters who can be read there, like Robert Fisk with the Independent UK).

NYT Crossword

Your reference to your addiction made me laugh.  I still have that monkey on my back but I haven't bought a copy of the Times since I got a subscription to their online crossword for Christmas.  $40 and you get access to archived puzzles plus the Sunday acrostics, cryptics, etc. Maybe one day Will Shortz will strike out on his own and I can divorce myself from the company completely.

I missed buying the paper out of sentimentality for a little while.  I had been reading it since I was about 14 but over the past 6 years or more was finding myself hardly ever really getting my news from it.  And the op-ed pages were becoming increasingly uselsess when not infuriating.  Am I really going to be the first to mention the appearance of Maureen Dowd there as a bellwether of those pages' irrelevancy?  Ignoring her became easier over time but when they gave Ann Althouse space there it was clear they wouldn't be getting serious anytime soon.  How out of touch do you have to be to not realize what a joke she is?

Why there is a jazz band on this hearse

We are the the reason. We want more than the corrupted folk in the city room can offer. At the J-A I saw the rot in the early sixties. The Man with No Legs would not let us go after Bob Moses when he was caught buns up. Life covered up Kennedy like his death was an accidental shooting.

Civil Rights was a celb moment not the cry of people being crushed and refusing go along with the system. The papers were in the pocket of the emerging forces of corporate control. The Times became the striking arm of United Fruit and the Narco Banks of New York, now they are failed instutions. Suddenly the weasles butt kissers start whining that they are are feeling the winds of change blowing down their house of lies, que lastema.

"Things are going good with change." Ted Joans

A problem of legitimacy

I think the cheer leading for the Iraq "war" combined with the New York Times specific actions of actually being part of the unreported news events is also a factor.  I'm thinking of things like Judith Miller's collusion with Scooter Libby ("aspens turning together") and the NYT's deliberate decision to withhold the unauthorized FISA tapping story until after the 2004 elections. These weren't just acts of biased reporting or "false equivalency" but deliberate attempts to control history and events.  Another example we all recently watched was Fox News's attempts to undermine the Obama administration with the "Tea bagging" events.  Fox wasn't "reporting" any sort of grassroots events but clearly was one of the major sponsors.  I think that's one of the reasons the whole event fizzled. Plus it subtly reminded people of the audiences at the Palin rallies and why they voted for Obama in the first place.

These kinds of things have happened too many times and people now have access to competing information via the Internet.

All of this adds up to a problem of "legitimacy" for corporate news.  I can't remember the name of an Italian anarchist who died in prison during WWII, but he said something to the effect that institutions collapse when they lose legitimacy and this happens quite quickly.

Not just newspapers!

Al:

Kudos on another excellent article. I would ad that not just newspapers are endanged, but the whole traditional media conglomerate. Radio is loosing listeners at an alarming pace as are television stations. The basis is the same: hubris! They've become out of touch with the average citizen.

For those very reasons, I left television news 10 years ago to take a job in Hispanic radio. I became an advocate for my audience, exposing corruption, standing up tolocal, state and national leaders, nearly getting arrested in the process, for my pursuit of truth. Currently, I am based out of Mexico, but broadcast to the U.S. Narco News is one of my main sources for material! In fact, I'd love to have you on my show. I've interviewed Kristin and she is an excellent reporter.

Keep up the good work! Authentic journalism is kicking the mainstream's butt! Let "Taps" begin!

Buffet on the newspaper industry

Perhaps one of the last nails into the coffin from Warren Buffet, part owner of the Washington Post. Looks like big money will not be touching newspapers.

“For most newspapers in the United states, we would not buy them at any price,” he said in response to a question about whether he would consider investing in newspapers. “They have the possibility of going to just unending losses.”

Patterson, Scott. "Buffett Sees ‘Unending Losses’ for Many Newspapers." Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2009.

Will an employee owned daily newspaper work?

Hey Al, do you think an employee-owned co-op will be a model that could revive the daily newspapers? My hometown paper, the SF Chronicle is a disgrace. They brought in a notorious union buster, Frank Vega to do all the dirty work. A lot of their good people have left in the last two years, and their new design looks a lot like the USA Today, blech.

Their main purpose

Remember though, many BigMedia outlets exist now to push a certain ideology on the electorate so that people will continue to vote against their own self interests.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of the BigMoney-funded "think tanks" were explicitly stating that one of the most important things they needed to do, in order to prevent future social upheaval which made up so much of the 1950s and 60s (thanks to organizers!), was to take control of the message machine.  They laid out plans to change laws to allow for much of the media consolidation we see today.  Their plans started bearing fruit by Ronnie Raygun's reign, and has been in full effect for the last decade or so.  We've had entire generations grow up into voting age within this media dynamic.

Fox Newz lost somewhere around $500 million in their first five years of operation, yet Murdoch kept pumping more money into it.  The Big Lewinsky helped it somewhat, but it didn't really take off until the Iraq Invasion, where ginned up jingoism piggybacked off of the 9/11 hysteria which they also helped create.  I worked at a TV station that was taken over by Fox while I was there, and we became a promotional arm for Fox movies and TV shows, and ambulance chasers literally overnight.  We started getting a daily fax for the "suggested" stories that night from Fox HQ in LA.  Ratings went down quickly and have stayed down for many years now, even though that station was the tops before the takeover, doing real journalism. 

Sam Zell, one of the most odious humans around today, bought the Chicago and LA Tribunes among others two years ago.  Ever since they have been consistently promoting horrible writers, with no discernible audience that might come to the papers by doing this, that push Repub talking points.  Sort of like the NYTimes with Bill Kristolnacht and now Ross Douchehat.

Murdoch and Zell joined the Board of the the AP last year, and we end up with Ron Fournier, whom Fieldhands have called out on numerous occasions for such obvious lies.

I just laugh when people try to make the case that it's "all about ratings."  We have so much evidence that "ratings" have nothing to do with the decisions these BigMedia mavens make.  The billionaires are simply protecting their billionaire buddies so they can all keep making their short-term massive profits.  The last thing they want is a bunch of Liberal reform and the general public paying attention and organizing, since they know we'd never allow them to keep playing their silly little reindeer games.

So, in a lot of ways, I think the BigMedia owners WANT these news outlets to fail.  They might lose some money on their media investments, but not having an actual "Press" helps tremendously in many of the other industries they're invested in, and those gains for outweigh any media losses.

What business you are in...

Every industry ecounters a point when the industry changes and businesses must re-learn their value to their customers. 

The value of newspapers is not the paper they are printed upon but the discovery and development of newsworthy events.

Which media is used to distribute the news is not likely relevant provided the media has the ability to create revenue to pay journalists.

When journalists become independent news sources, we have returned to the place that existed when America was founded, independent news.

 

  

All Well And Good, but...

I am not mourning the demise of the newspaper as corporatist institution. But as a lay reader it seems to me that Rich makes an important distinction that you don't discuss here. It's one thing to cover local politics in the US, or for that matter, politics in the US, because it is, after all, largely an analysis of words. But that's just not the case for other kinds of reporting: business, science, and foreign affairs, including war. Right now we count on the goodness of people's hearts for good blogging in science and business. There is no reason that someone can't come along and generate crap blogs that people get information from in those areas. And then we run into the problem of who is going to be the referee? I am not -- repeat NOT-- arguing in favor of corporatism or even governmental institutions like the BBC. But I am saying that someone is going to have to pay people to write competently about things that the average person doesn't know about and I would prefer that I knew where that person's paycheck was coming from. Otherwise, it seems to me, we are heading for simply a two-part world, where there's blogging for a few and TV for everyone else. Is that really better? 

I put up a challenge to David Simon

Right here.   It revolves around these words of his:

"The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning board hearing," added the casually clad Simon, "is the day that I will be confident that we have actually reached some sort of balance."

1) HuffPo, like the NYT and USA Today, has a national focus, as Mr. Simon should know.

2) Unlike Mr. Simon, I'm not from Baltimore, but -- also unlike Mr. Simon -- I know how to use Google.  And searching for "Baltimore blogs" and "Baltimore bloggers" turns up http://www.blogtimore.com./, an aggregator of Baltimore blogs, at least one of which -- The Dagger -- does the sort of local reporting Simon is talking about.  Furthermore, the folks at The Dagger are looking for people like Simon to join them:

 

The Dagger is looking for…

Writers, reporters, bloggers, critics, photographers, videographers, comedians and neighborhood busybodies who are interested in telling the rest of our community what you know. While our home base is the Central Maryland region, we are always looking to grow and are interested in expanding our horizons and minds. Email us for more information, or drop us a note using our contact form.

How is The Dagger different?

Citizen Journalism. Although most of us at one time worked as professional journalists, most of us are not presently employed in the media industry. We like to think we’ve retained the best the newspaper world has to offer (objective reporting, biting writing, quality storytelling) while being able to jettison some of the problems of the profession (attachment to media conglomerates, refusal to adapt to modern technology/society, stubbornly wrong-headed traditionalist thinking).

What’s more, we’ve torn down the boundary between reporter and reader. We are all citizen journalists. There is no longer a need to filter information through a reporter and editor. No one can tell the story like someone who lived it. No one can report on community happenings like someone who resides there. Our readers are our writers and vice versa. Through submissions, open commenting and our forum, there is nothing preventing you from telling your story anymore. No deaf-eared editor will tune you out and effectively mute you.

Tell us. Join us.

they've always been a tool

they've always been a tool of oppression and could not be happier that they fold up & fall away.

 

when the B globe stopped covering the freedom rally on boston common & propping up the occupation, war on drugs and amerikan criminal wars i knew they were done

 

o happy day!

the propped up enough criminal vets &  their war machine

to make me puke.

Al, you're mentioned in Rich's comment section

I did an advanced google search on Frank Rich's article with the comments open:

http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2009/05/10/opinion/10rich....

for “Al Giordano” and got this:

http://community.nytimes.com/article/comments/2009/05/10/opinion/10rich.html?s=1&pg=5

You’re no 111. "I will support Al Giordano’s Authentic Journalism school for news from south of the border."

Not that I disagree

but there's still going to be a massive hole left behind, especially where investigative journalism is concerned. The national press corps has been one giant league of fail the past 20 years, but I'm loathe to paint the rest of the industry with the same brush.

 

I also think there's going to be an even stronger tendancy for people to seek out news sources that confirm their own biases than already exists.It's bad enough some people rely on Fox News for their national news; how bad is it going to get when they're relying on the local equivalent of Free Republic for local news too?

 

If the Great Recession hadn't happened, I think the transition might have gone better. As it is, it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Simon and The Scribes

When the Newspaper Guild/CWA flew me out for this journalism banquet thing in Washington D.C. almost a year ago I got the chance to meet Simon and hear him speak at the event. He's actually a very talented public speaker, and naturally lamented the the sorry state of the “journalism industry,” a eulogy theme that would remain throughout the entire night. Almost every speaker seemed depressed, but offered no real answers as to how to fix their “problem.” They wondered how they could have gotten to where they were, and some of course blamed the Internet for ruining the quality of journalism.

In his speech the crux of Simon's argument was that you can't sell something when its given away for free damn it! Sure, he took a few pot shots at capitalism, citing the greed of newspaper owners who cut investigative story budgets, while also saying he still believed in capitalism as the “greatest system for accruing wealth.” But he never once offered any solutions. It was like the industry had already died. And keep in mind, this was before the financial crisis hit in the following September.

Before the event I was mingling around with a Denver Post reporter, and while we talked about how long it would take for the Rocky to go under (his prediction was a lot closer than mine) he also asked me how I planned to support a family with my meager Internet wages and still continue along my “career path.” He also asked me what funding model would actually keep journalism in business. My only response was “How the hell should I know?” And “Jesus,” I thought later, “If they're asking me how to save their industry its in a lot more trouble than I thought!”

My point is, I don't have the answers to save the industry and neither does anyone else. And while it may sound cruel, I really don't care about saving an institution that would never tolerate someone like me to begin with. An institution that, as Narco News has pointed out, is in part responsible for killing off an unknown number of talented colleagues. I can talk oodles about the craft itself, and I think the craft is definitely evolving into something better now. But in the end, the journalism industry is trying to sell a commodity that's most of the time not worth a pack of chewing gum. Good riddance indeed.

 

Mixed feelings

Al, you're right on a lot of these issues, of course. But I can't help feeling that there's a lot that's going unsaid by you and by other people who are crowing loudly at the death of print journalism.

You mention Daniel Ellsburg as a great example of what journalism *used* to be. And I can't argue. But consider this for a second: why did Ellsburg go to the NYT with the Pentagon Papers, as opposed to the East Village Other or any of the numerous "advocacy" and underground publications of the day, which could be considered very roughly analogous to blogs-as-online-media today?

It was because the NYT had two things that blogs don't, as of yet: reputability and accountability. There's a reason the NYT is called the "paper of record" -- because it has served, for more than 150, as a reputable, verifiable, known and proven source of information. (At the time, the NYT also had far greater availability than any underground publication, but that's irrelevant now, of course.)

This is just as true, by the way, if the NYT decides to move entirely online. It is still a "newspaper", even if it is no longer printed, the same way we refer to online music providers as "Internet radio stations", even though there's no radio transmission involved. "Newspaper" is still a useful term to describe a news-gathering agency that delivers information to the public which is considered credible due to the agency's trust reputation.

I'm not saying the NYT's current journalism standards are wonderful, or that we should cry hot tears at the death of daily print journalism, much of which is utterly pointless now.

What I *am* saying is that perhaps we should not be so sanguine about the gap that's appearing here -- the gap where professional journalists do professional journalism with at least a basic adherence to widely-held standards of practice.

In my experience as a journalist, that still does exist out there, and is at least worth mourning if not fighting to preserve in some sense.

 

Obama kills at dinner: journalism and its discontents

I approach this question with a little less schadenfreude, but criticizing the structure of news reportage, in Monday's post on 3 Quarks Daily -- you might be interested:

 

http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2009/05/pressed-obama-at-the-wh...

"Business, mister?"

Oh, don't get me going about Jim Moroney at the Dallas Morning News with his petulant little fit over how bloggers should be forced to pay his paper for linking to articles.  Even for newspapers, the "Dullest Boring Snooze" was in particular denial about the effects of the Web on news coverage, and Moroney's predecessor Burl Osborne was notorious for telling everyone dumb enough to listen that "the Internet is nothing but a fad."  Fact is, people stopped reading the Morning News nearly twenty years ago, when its parent company A.H. Belo bought up the competing Dallas Times Herald and shut it down.  Since then, it's been nothing but a morass of bad reportage and general arrogance to anyone under the age of 50 and possessing more melanin than Edgar Winter.  It's been a great paper to the big Dallas interests determined to keep the rest of us stupid and poor, as witnessed by the recent election win for a city-financed and -operated convention center hotel that just happens to be on property owned by Belo.  Sadly for them, it ain't enough any more.

A lot of the problems faced by newspapers can be chalked up to simple incompetence and denial.  The reason why most people in Texas would rather read used toilet paper over the Morning News lies with malevolence and greed as well.  Strangely, its target audience of thirtysomethings and fortysomethings remembers well the paper's hate campaign against teenagers in the Eighties and Nineties...well, teenagers who weren't the publisher's son getting busted for underage drinking.  We all remember when Burl Osborne spiked a story about then-Governor Bill Clements admitting that he'd lied about authorizing secret payments to Southern Methodist University football players because "there wasn't a Bible in the room":  Burl felt that would make SMU look even worse than usual, so he sat on it until it leaked to other venues.  There were the multiple incidents of delivering tons of papers to empty lots and apartment complex laundromats in attempts to goose circulation to justify the ad rates, and there was the underhanded stunt by Belo and Universal Press Syndicate to steal Doonesbury and other Universal features from the Times Herald.  There was the political cartoons of Bill DeOre.  There were just years and years of stories that the paper couldn't hide, so the publisher just shoved them far in the back in the hopes that nobody would read past the obituaries to find them.  Oh, the Morning News gave us lots and lots of reasons to hate them, and now we're supposed to support them so we don't lose a local paper.  I believe "go suck a dog's ass until its head caves in" is the only appropriate response.

Now, to be fair, it's not like we have any upstanding competition to challenge the Morning News any more.  Dean Singleton bought the Times Herald and promptly stripped it of any value before discarding it like a used tampon, just as he did with every other paper he's overseen, leaving it with a skeleton force before it finally died.  (At the time, several other companies were interested in buying it, and nobody discovered for years that Belo worked out a sweetheart deal to buy the paper that, coincidentally, broke the law.)  The Dallas Observer, our sole remaining weekly, used to have some credibility, but that was before New Times bought it and hired Peter "You, Of Course, Know Who I Am, Don't You?" Elkind to edit it.  (These days, the Observer's credibility is mud, particularly due to the inability to fire one egomaniac who spent years writing cover stories about comic books and Star Trek because apparently nothing else was sufficiently important.  His name is a local profanity, used to describe reporters who refuse to cover an event without lots of comps and then who slam the event because of the comps offered, but he's somehow still employed even as advertisers refuse to buy ad space because of his presence.)  And D magazine?  Besides being a workfare program for otherwise unemployable SMU journalism majors, particularly the ones fired from every other publication in town for incompetence or malfeasance...

I half agree and half don't

I do agree with the idea that Newspapers, through poor management and poor content, dug their own graves and deserve little sympathy for their failing state.  I agree that citizen journalism is probably what waits in the wings to replace pay-for-print media.  I disagree that newspapers dying in the fashion that they are dying is good, or that the strident tone of this article is sensible.  I'm going to level with you here - I've never heard of Narco News (and I read a lot of online aggregators where it would seemingly come up) and I don't really have any intention to come back here.  I'm not making a value judgement, I'm just telling it how it is.  I read a lot of stuff in my day-to-day, sometimes on my own time, and sometimes when I'm not busy at work.  And I have room for 1 link blog (metafilter) and 1 forum (which supplies links), and I don't really have time to check anything else.  And you know what I find on this blog and that forum?  Links to articles that were paid for by print media.  Is print media in bed with corporate interests and highly suspect?  Yes.  To be blunt, "no shit".  But I don't see those citizen journalists donating hours of their time to cover the same stuff for the marginal returns of online ads (yet another corporate means).  Not to mention how much easier it is to buy or astroturf internet sources than print. 

 

Ideally, had Newspapers not been bought and sold by corrupt robber barons, there would've been a stop-gap between traditional news and internet news, but that's not going to happen.  I fail to see why this makes you so happy.

225 Original Reports in 1st Three Months of 2009

AJP - Betting that your declarations that you'll never return here are, like those of others, unfulfilled, I'll offer you a brief response.

You wrote (apparently without really confirming your presumption with facts): "And you know what I find on this blog and that forum?  Links to articles that were paid for by print media... I don't see those citizen journalists donating hours of their time to cover the same stuff for the marginal returns of online ads."

Here at Narco News, in the first three months of 2009, we published 225 original reports, a great many of them the result of evident intensive investigative journalism. You can browse them on our front page - www.narconews.com - where, yes, you'll also find some links to stories in other media.

And we do all this - now for nine years - without ever having accepted advertising or charged any fee to readers.

We can do this because hundreds of readers donate small amounts of money which add up to enough to do it.

We're living proof that it is possible. (Oh, and welcome back!)

Thanks for responding

I mean, I have to check my comment right? 

I wasn't trying to shit on narconews - looking into it a bit more after posting that comment, it does seem that you have a healthy following (I was wrong about metafilter there're quite a few linkbacks from them).

I'm sure that given the right ammount of time and effort citizen journalism will grow into a news service that can actually facilitate democracy and equality (something that the mainstream press tried at, but was limited by format and corporate ties).  The only problem is that it's not even close yet.  If you want news online, then you're probably going to go to a site that echoes your current views.  I'm not going to Little Green Footballs any time soon unless I'm linked there because of whatever dumb shit they've posted recently. 

This makes for an atmosphere where it's easy to spread any propaganda that you want to.  At least with mainstream journalism, having to play both sides against the middle for the sake of advertising revenue lead to a certain degree of fairness.  I'm not so naive as to think that this 'fairness' didn't heavily favor the existing power structure, but someone willing to read between the lines could pull accurate information out of an institution article.

Mainstream press had weight as an institution, and a conservative (even if they cursed the 'liberal media') would still have to consider an alternate viewpoint if he wanted to read the morning paper.

Plus, despite how capable your staff is, I don't think that citizen journalism is anywhere near ready to replace local papers (outside of major metropolitan areas, that is). 

These are my concerns with the current shift in reporting.  Is it the newspapers' faults that they're currently facing extinction?  Most definitely it is.  Are there great possibilities in a move from print to online journalism?  Yes, world changing ones at that. 

But my question is what happens in between?  In a world without any sort of accurate reporting you fall back on the propaganda of Fox (who's not going out of business any time soon), and whatever astroturf they want to advertise.  Look at those tea parties that sprang up around the country, a 'grass roots' effort of course.  That's a terrifying force, in my opinion.

This is why I don't share your glee that newspaper journalism is crashing and burning.

newspaper death

The issues raised here are valid but Giordiano reveals, and not for the first time, that for him, this is more about the axes he has to grind with an industry he previously worked for than with the state of journalism in general. He almost comes across as Captain Queeg when he writes, "Oh, how they snickered." It's a little sad and very egotistical. 

I applaud Narco News for bringing out stories we might otherwise not see. There is also a lot of quality reporting on the site. But the idea of ditching "objective" reporting is a 60s romance that died with Hunter Thompson. I want objective news, which is a difficult thing to produce as anyone who has done so knows. Writing opinion or objective pieces is easy. But many of us aren't interested in personal rants and opinions lashing out at the same old dead mules -- the war on drugs, the news business, neo-liberalism. We want information, not propoganda. We want light, not heat.   

 

 

Worth saying what others are thinking

Listening to Brooke Gladstone's interview in 'On the Media' with David Simon (http://www.drivelry.com/online-news-bloggers-v-newspapers-will-the-lowest-cost-base-win/218/ ) I was struck by similar feelings to Al i.e. "if you can't change then get out of the way".

And I don't think much of the press can change (the thing I notice often as an SEO person is how 10 years down the line most newspapers still can't get to grips with search).

Any 21 year old with an MBA can tell you that there are really only 2 ways to compete (on cost or product differentiation) and the web is nailing the traditional press on both counts. 

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About Al Giordano

Biography

Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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