The failure of the Rocky Mountain News elicited a weepy response from our ol’ buddy Bobby Kravitz the other day. I’m not going to pick on Bob too hard for paying an homage to a place he enjoyed working, nor do I just want to repeat my screed from earlier this year. Rather, it raises an issue that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. While I feel bad that anyone has to look for another job given the state of things today, I’m not sure why anyone should feel bad when a business fails to make the cut. Kravitz waxes poetic about how newspapers are ‘quasi-public’. I frankly don’t see that at all. Here’s the truth about all media, print or otherwise:
They are businesses, designed to make money.
Kravitz talks about how a voice is silenced because the RMN went under. I disagree. Those voices are out there. Those people can still write and report, and reach far more people on line than they ever did in print. People are truly silenced when an oppressive government punishes them for speaking out. When a newspaper can’t figure out how to correctly monetize its reporting, people have to find new ways of speaking, but are not really quieted in any meaningful sense. They merely have to find a new forum for their writing, namely the very one which put the newspaper under…the internet.
Newspapers are not a public trust. They hold no special place in the republic. Their job is to attract readers and sell copies, nothing else. I laugh when I read about things like ‘journalistic ethics’, as if journalists have some special obligation that other people don’t have. There are standards and practices that can make your news organization more or less credible, and those may help you sell more or fewer papers or ads. Beyond that, all journalists have the responsibility to be ethical people just like everyone else. They carry no special burdens because they work for newspapers.
Once upon a time, we relied on newspapers to tell us what happened. In today’s television saturated world, most major events are covered from every conceivable angle, and ‘what happened’ is no longer in question. Today, people want analysis and interpretation. This is the very thing that ‘ethical’ journalists pride themselves on not providing. There’s still some room for good deep investigative journalism, but there are only so many stories, and now we all have access to them through the net. There isn’t the need for the volume of reporters and papers as in years past. Now only the best papers and writers will survive. That’s not a tragedy. It’s not even sad. It’s the nature of business in a competitive world.
There has been a growing hostility toward internet writers by the print media in the world of sports. This is largely because internet writers are showing that the print columnists aren’t special. They fancy themselves journalists, but really they are just people with access. The good ones will always have jobs and avenues for advancement. Reporters will always be necessary as well. In sports, there will always be a market for news from the local beat guys. Essentially, I only read the Indy Star on line. It could never print another paper, but as long as it was on line, I would read it just the same. I would be willing to pay for the daily Colts coverage they provide, because Chappell and Phil B. Wilson give me information that I need that I can’t get anywhere else. But what has changed in the last 15-20 years is that now the ‘star’ of the local paper, the columnist, has been rendered unnecessary by internet writers.
Some may question the ‘wild west’ nature of on-line writing saying that we have no standards or practices that are normative. I would counter that it is the mainstream media who routinely violates all standards of impartiality with hack networks like MSNBC (corrected from CNBC) and Fox News. Even Dan Rather lost his job because he was guilty of horribly biased and sloppy reporting. In the end, every one of us is guided by a moral compass that is either internal, external, or broken. I don’t write sensationalistic things or inflammatory articles, because I don’t want to be that person. Bob Kravitz writes hatchet jobs about Tony Dungy because he wants to sell papers and be controversial. One of us writes what we believe, the other manipulates the public for money. Which is more ethical? For the record, I…%