Thursday, February 12, 2009

What's the point of the traditional news media?

Following up on my post about the pointlessness of White House press briefings, I want to add something that might seem to go without saying, but that I think is too easy to forget: this is part of what traditional news reporting is. So when people bemoan the decline of traditional news media, you have to wonder how much value is actually there to be potentially lost.

If you watch Journeys with George, the documentary about the press covering Bush's 2000 campaign, you'll have a hard time taking traditional campaign reporting very seriously either.

Relatedly, Matthew Yglesias points out that a lot of what newspapers do doesn't provide enough of a benefit to society for a philanthropist to want to fund them:

The world is not currently lacking for sports coverage. Nor is there some kind of critical shortfall in people offering opinions about politics. Business reporting actually seems to have a viable economic model behind it. Similarly, lifestyle journalism continues to be viable in a number of formats. ...

[A] newspaper is a gigantic bundle of paper covering miscellaneous topics. The rationale for lumping all those topics into a single geographically-bound institution has to do with the economic logic of printing and distributing bundles of paper, and very little to do with the economic logic of producing and disseminating a digital media product.
Finally, Jonah Goldberg has a key insight about the history vs. the future of the news media:




Yeah, why don't we complain about the decline of the telegraph?



(Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

4 comments:

Zachary Paul Sire said...

Sorry, I must've missed Jonah Goldber's "key insight." (Seriously, Jonah Goldberg), really John? Yikes.) Was it that we just shouldn't rely on established, "elite" sources to give us the news, or that we should prepare for a "bloody" Journalism War? WTF?

I'm fine with newspapers going away (they deserve to die since they've had plenty of time to catch up and they still haven't), but we have to be able to trust someone for honest reporting and investigative journalism. Jonah Goldberg is not that someone, and neither are the zillions of conservative/liberal blogger-"journalists" who bemoan traditional media.

Having a computer and an opinion does not make you qualified.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Sorry, I must've missed Jonah Goldber's "key insight."

(1) People tend to mistakenly assume that the structure and dominance of the mainstream media as we know it is "the natural order of things." It's artificial and contingent on historical forces. (2) Our current thoughts on the media are skewed by the fact that it's impossible to know what news media will look like in the future.


(Seriously, Jonah Goldberg), really John? Yikes.)

First of all, if someone makes a point that I think is worth blogging, I'll use it no matter who said it. I think Ann Coulter's commentary is often abysmal, but if she makes a great point that I haven't heard other people make and that fits into something I'm posting about, I'll use it. I saw a lecture by Cass Sunstein, the liberal law professor who's now working for Obama, and he respectfully cited an argument Bill O'Reilly made about the free speech clause of First Amendment. However unserious Bill O'Reilly might be in general, he had made a point that fit into a serious discussion of constitutional law. Why wouldn't Sunstein use it?

Second, Jonah Goldberg isn't Ann Coulter or Bill O'Reilly -- I think he's one of the most insightful columnists around. That's why I have one of his essays ("The Tyranny of Cliches") permanently in the "Classics" section of my sidebar.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Having a computer and an opinion does not make you qualified.

But having a printing press and an opinion does?

Zachary Paul Sire said...

But having a printing press and an opinion does?

Absolutely not. But I hope the ethics of journalism (yes, I do believe they still exist for most us who call us ourselves journalists) don't dissipate as the newspaper industry continues to die. I don't trust a lot of people in the mainstream media, but I don't trust the alternative a lot more.