When you think about what blogs and many Internet sites like this one, does what David Simon said in a recent Salon.com 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.