Thursday, May 07, 2009

Maybe It's Because They Suck

So Walter Pincus has an essay in Columbia Journalism Review about what't wrong with newspapers and why they are failing so colossally hereabouts. He makes some good points, but proves himself a little too close to his subject perhaps, by A.) telling us too much about Walter Pincus and his own heady days at the Times, his later chats with Phillip Graham etc. (rather odd in a piece entitled "Newspaper Narcissism") and B.) laying this steaming pile on us:

The Graham and Sulzberger families’ ownership of The Washington Post and The New York Times is, I believe, a major reason why these newspapers continue to provide quality journalism. But even they and their editors are nervous when accused of showing favoritism or antipathy toward one party or another.

Now, in fairness, Pincus himself is a pretty good reporter, but neither the Times nor the Post have been much good at informing the populace about what atrocities the GOP, the Christofascists, the Wall Streeters etc have wrought for the last few decades. As I have often said, it was readily apparent, even a matter of public record that W was a toxic bungler, and the puppet of same, long before he ever slimed his way into the White House, but none of the mainstream players told the booboisee this plain truth, and the rest is...infamy. So claims of"quality journalism" in our leading papers are pretty much out the window right there.

One thing Pincus doesn't really touch upon is the issue of trust. Newspaper stories, being subliterary and unfunny by design, rely for most of their appeal, their interest, their hypnotics, not on their usefulness to the reader, but on their documentrary claim , their veracity, their trustworthiness. A story has to be much more clever, shocking or weird to hold interest when we assume it may be fictional. But even a mildly weird or emblematic story can become compelling when we asume it's true -- the Urban Legend Effect. Think of all those Darwin Award stories that go around. They're scintillating when we assume they're real; nobody repeats them if they're revealed as bullshit. The bullshit quotient in contemporary journalism is going up up up (strongly correlated with its reliance on anonymous sources), so it just isn't that interesting anymore. Why would I buy or read something that's boring and apt to be bullshit?


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