Oh boy, you know this is going to be good — the Atlantic just published a poll of “media insiders” (the magazine’s words, not mine) asking whether the Internet helps or hurts journalism. Shockingly, it turns out that most of these old-school media folks aren’t fans of the web! Sixty-five percent said the Internet has hurt journalism, while only 34 percent said it had helped. Here’s a sample comment:
[The Internet] has mortally wounded the financial structure of the news business so that the cost of doing challenging, independent reporting has become all but prohibitive all over the world. It has blurred the line between opinion and fact and created a dynamic in which extreme thought flourishes while balanced judgment is imperiled.
News consumption depends on news production, and I don’t see anything on the Internet that produces news — that is, detailed responsible empirical journalism –the way newspapers do (or did).
Now, I’ve already ranted about the silly old media assertion that the Internet is just a parasite on the independent, investigative journalism published by traditional news conglomerates, but since it keeps popping up, it’s worth digging into this idea a little more. First of all, the assertion that you can’t find lengthy, in-depth journalism on the Internet is just dumb. Ditto the idea that the web is responsible for the phenomenon of blending straight reporting with opinion, which is just not true. Most surprising of all, though, is the suggestion that newspapers are such bastions of in-depth, substantive journalism. I say “surprising,” because it was an article in the Atlantic earlier this year that — while echoing many of the concerns about the web — made the most persuasive case that newspapers have done a great job of eliminating their own journalistic value without the Internet’s help:
Under the guise of “service,” The Times has been on a steady march toward temporarily profitable lifestyle fluff. Escapes! Styles! T magazine(s)! For a time, this fluff helped underwrite the foreign bureaus, enterprise reporting, and endless five-part Pulitzer Prize aspirants. But it has gradually hollowed out journalism’s brand, by making the newspaper feel disposable.
In other words, it’s not the Internet that has taught readers to devalue newspapers, it’s the newspapers. And as much as I sympathize with worries that the web has less room for quality journalism, reading self-satisfied, self-serving crap like the comments in this poll just annoys the hell out of me.
I should also mention that the poll methodology is rather weird. The sample size was a whopping 43 people, small enough that the aggregated results tell you just about nothing. What’s valuable, of course, are the comments, but even though every single respondent is named at the end of the article, the comments themselves are anonymous. It’d be nice to know if the above statements came from Talking Points Memo’s Joshua Micah Marshall, NPR’s Nina Totenberg, MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson, or someone else entirely.
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