Sunday, May 10, 2009

For Sale Sign on the Fourth Estate

In his column today Frank Rich argues that we need professional journalists who do their work as a career, not a hobby, and therefore they need to get paid. It can't be the government who pays them for obvious reasons. So even as newspapers are failing left and right there surely is a need to find some new commercial entity that hires journalists and publishes the work. The question that nobody has an answer to, Clay Shirky included, is what that commercial entity will look like.

I'm not going to offer up an answer, because I don't have one. But I will make a comment as a would be consumer of whatever comes next. News mostly isn't. It ends up being mostly blather. Investigative journalism requires analysis, to put the pieces together. We might be better off regarding the quality of written (I deleted the word "print" that I put down first) journalism, if there were less frequent publication, say weekly, even monthly. The point Rich makes about requiring a counter force to authority, whether in government or big business, doesn't seem to also require that each news outlet find its worth to be had in "scooping rivals," especially in the bulk of the stories that turn out to provide no counter force whatsoever. The scooping function may have arisen out of commercial necessity but it now has a life of its own and has lead to a soundbite approach, at the cost of skepticism and depth of coverage.

As with all crises, this is an opportunity for some auto correction. One can only hope that in the experimentation and flailing to find something that works, the press can restore their raison d'etre.

No comments: