Froth of commentary and debate. No this is not the local latte

When you think about what blogs and many Internet sites like this one, does what David Simon said in a recent article make sense? Is old media in trouble? In talking about the finale of the show "The Wire" he recently said:

The impact of the Internet is that it's pulling the froth of commentary and debate off the top of first-generation news gathering, leaving newspapers with only a first-generation role for themselves, which is not enough for them to sustain readers, and so they're losing young readers. By and large, excusing the fact that there are some first-generation journalists going out and acquiring new information directly for the Web, the vast majority of the Internet is reaction and debate and commentary -- some of it brilliant. But I don't run into a lot of Internet reporters at council meetings and in courthouses.

The part where he talks about the Internet starts on page 3 and goes for a page or so. He has some interesting thoughts.

He also gave an interview to the Baltimore City Paper where he talked a bit more.

You just said it exactly. The internet is skimming the froth of commentary from the first-generation news gatherers like The Sun. They have parasitically achieved immediacy and relevance by co-opting the debate, the humor, the rage, and the provocation that results from the news product--WITHOUT ACTUALLY INVESTING OR COMMITTING IN ANY SERIOUS WAY TO THE SYSTEMIC ACQUISITION OF THAT NEWS.

And the parasite is killing the host. Is the internet a marvelous tool in myriad ways? Of course. Is it the future? No doubt. But thus far it is not a responsible or viable alternative to a major metropolitan newspaper.

The scene above is, believe it or not, the power that the internet holds over newspapers at this point. It is the economic preamble to the story of Season 5. But to mistake it for the story itself, for the drama, is silly. The critique that The Wire undertook this season is to ask the same question--the only meaningful question--that one would ask about the media and its role in our version of Baltimore. If these problems depicted in previous seasons do exist--and they do--and if many of the trends and events depicted actually occurred--yep, many did--how effective is the highest end of local journalism at acquiring and delivering an account to readers? How are they covering the city? And that question is the same in 1972 as it is in 2008.

Could we have included a line about a reporter filing to his blog as well as the first edition. Sure, though it changes nothing in the premise. We could have also shown reporters staring at the internet in the newsroom. Look! Zorzi's reading Romenesko. It's accurate. But so is a detective filing out vehicle-use reports.

The impact of the internet is profound as preamble. Newspapers have not yet figured out how to coexist with it. But do not claim that this is because the internet is doing the job of newspapers. When bloggers begin showing up with notepads or laptops at council meetings and courthouses, in London or Moscow or Fallujah, then we'll talk.

Is this fair analysis? What are the potential implications of this?

He gave some promo interviews and they have shown up around the Web. Here are some snippets:

There is a report of an event that Simon was at:
He listed a more small-scale example, where a local police chief made robberies in his district drop by 80%. The chief was promoted. When his successor came in, robberies jumped back to the original level, and there was a great outcry. The truth, of course, was this golden police chief had cooked the stats -- written off robberies as minor incidents, intimidated citizens into not reporting crimes, and so on -- and a good reporter could have gotten to the bottom of that. A good reporter is there to (as Simon put it) "Take this thing apart, lie by lie."[Chris' comment, oh boy do I know of a situation locally where this has occurred]

In any case, editors were left with an inferior product: a newspaper that could get destroyed by the next disruptive change in the industry.

And lo, then came the Internet.

Simon describes the Internet as 'a parasite that's killing the host'. It does excellent "second-generation journalism" -- commentary on stories that pop up -- but it's absolute crap at "first-generation journalism" -- finding the story, digging up the facts, and reporting what's going on in the real world instead of reporting on other people's reportage. So the newspapers provide the raw material -- they gather the facts -- but nobody looks to them for commentary, and their circulation suffers. And new media are definitely not doing any effective regional coverage. For that, you need reporters.

Do you think worthwhile journalism is being done anywhere? In books, documentaries, magazines, or at newspapers?

“I think there is valuable journalism being done. I think a lot more of it is in magazines and books. I think where newspapers find themselves flanked is, the smaller, self-contained stuff that they did – hold the guy to what he said a month earlier – that stuff, they’re getting [beaten] by the Internet. That’s where the Internet can compete.

“Where the Internet cannot compete is with depth reporting and with carefully constructed narrative. That stuff -- the newspapers are losing out on that to books and magazines. The best reporting out of Iraq is in book form and magazine form. There’s been some good [newspaper] reporting out of Iraq and the high-end papers are still every now and then breaking off something remarkable.

It’s those second-tier papers. … The Baltimore Sun can’t even properly cover the city’s crime problem, how are they going to speak intelligently about national issues or international issues?”
“If you’re at a newspaper now where the technology seems to be running against the industry, there’s some frustration is seeing anyone critique the product. I sort of understand that. I believe there was relevance in the critique. I don’t believe that journalists and journalism are wholly innocent in what’s happening. My argument will be that the Internet is a tidal wave, and to withstand it, newspapers had to be strong and vibrant and essential to their communities. After the last few years of profit taking, they were anything but. I know they did when I was at The Sun."

This was a story about a newspaper that now -- on some fundamental basis -- fails to cover its city substantively, and guess what -- between out-of-town ownership, carpetbagging editors, the emphasis on impact journalism or Prize-culture journalism and, of course, the economic preamble that is the arrival of the internet and the resulting loss of revenue and staff, there are a f--k of a lot of newspapers that are failing to cover their cities substantively. That is the last piece in the Wire puzzle: If you think anyone will be paying attention to anything you encountered in the first four seasons of this show, think again.
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"Show me a man who lives alone and has a perpetually dirty kitchen, and
five times out of nine I'll show you an exceptional man." -Charles

There's a city full of walls you can post complaints at

Thanks for the post.

Don't take it too hard, Chris. We've all been disappointed, at one time or another, in the response level to our posts. What seems of absolute vital importance to one, will be trivial and meaningless to another.

brought a bunch of responses, and it would be an interesting study on why so much commentary there vs not hardly any here.

from what I've gathered, it's clear to me that this environment can only flourish if it's clear that the reporting is from a credible source.

Othwerwise it's just a pissing match, or better yet, becomes intrusive.

See, issues presented by print media offers the slant of it's publisher.

Perfect example, over on Toledo Talk, there's a report of a SWAT endeavour which occured this past week at the University of Toledo.

I have a couple friends that attend UToledo, and apparently the Toledo SWAT team decided to use UT's campus for practice drills last Monday night. However, some of the students and teachers were not informed of this fact. So, when my friends were exiting class around 10 p.m., they were greeted with flash grenades and gunfire. They ran back to class with the other students to barricade the door, shut off all the lights and make calls to 911 and loved ones. They thought they were in the midst of a Virginia Tech, and thought the flash grenades were bombs. A campus officer came to the classroom to calm and escort the students.

Was it even reported in the local media? I've seen not one snippet concerning this event, especially after the press Carty got for disposing of our Marines because they'd "scare the citizens".

Didn't the excersize SWAT conducted a reflection of the environment the Marines were involved in? I mean, it wasn't even advertised in the local media that this was even going to take place.

But it happened.

And where was the local media during this event?

Chief Navarre?

Mayor Carelton Finkbeiner?


It was a blogger that shone the light on this failure in communication by your local City Officials and Police Department.

Wonder which dead person will get the blame for this stunt?

David Simon is very outspoken on media and the effects of Blogs/Internet on the old media. In some aspects he is right. There is a change going on. He is also right that most blogs 80-90% of them mostly react to what occurs. Most Blogs do solicit opinions and feedback on news, sites like SwampBubbles are doing just that. But here is the rub, did these opinions and commentary never exist before? No they have always been there, but these conversations have been limited to coffee shops, barber shops, beauty salons and other local gathering spots. The Internet allows all of this to be archived, viewed and read the world over. Reaction and commentary has always occurred, it is not a new phenomenon, but it does allow larger groups of people to congregate and talk. That scares politicians and media alike, because if citizens did not like something that was reported or something that the media reported or editorialized, the only outlet was talking to your friend in the social gathering spot. Now it is easy to find out how people think about you or your work. Look at the Carty vs the Marine incident which happened to have as much outrage as when the Michael Gagnon killed the 5 family members driving drunk. I am sure without blogs the outrage would have been the same but the response would have been more diluted.

But there is more. Trust in the Old Media is at an all time low. Maybe it is refreshing to be able to find the news you like and not listen to a bunch of people bloviate over what they think you should know and think. A perfect example of this is what happened to Jack Ford when he was appointed to the board. Jack turned in an application that would have been tossed in the trash. The Blade ran an editorial saying how good of a board member he would be, but many were left scratching their heads on how they decided to just overlook the embarrassing application. A good board member would not hand in such a poor application. There are many other instances of this occurring, but now people who are frustrated with that type of looking down advice and glancing over the obvious and seek out other sources. The Internet and Web sites are ways to find a niche that they like. Large general news organizations have their own slant on the news and some people just don’t agree with that. While blogs are not news organizations, bloggers that link to news stories or even commentary on what was covered allows these people an outlet.

What do blogs and Internet sites offer? They offer a personal view of the news. Each Blog has its own focus; while some overlap there are some similarities.

But there are new trends developing. More bloggers are doing first person reporting and are adding significant resources to the debate. I posted the Toledo Public Board meeting audio and notes so you can see what is going on throughout the entire meeting. Newspaper coverage of board meetings were determined based upon what the reporter and editor thought was important. Sometimes it was different and sometimes it was the same. But on the blog you got the complete story as unfiltered as possible for you to decide. Simon is missing the boat in regards to how many bloggers are reporting or putting out first looks at issues.

Blogs are becoming aggregators of information. Blogs are not inhibited by the fear of citing other news organization’s work. Bloggers link to stories that are on diverse spectrums such as CNN or Fox News, like what you will see here on this site. CNN will hardly ever link to resources on Fox News unless they have a really unique or newsworthy story.

Don’t think that a blog can rival a large news organization. Look no further than TechCrunch ( Tech Crunch’s visitors rivals and exceeds the large news organization CNET ( with a fraction of the staff. Tech Crunch looks exactly like a blog and functions the same way and the lines are blurred, because they report the news. Watch for more blogs to become more newsworthy as the audience develops.

I don’t necessary think that David Simon has looked into that, but that is because he is a traditional news man looking at the new media which means he will have his own biases and point of view because of this background. I think many can agree that most blogging is just reaction and debate over what occurs, and most blogs are nothing more than personal diaries, which have hardly any following. But the ones drawing attention are the ones that are breaking the mold, and I don’t think that David has analyzed what trends they follow. This is probably what worries people the most.

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