New-stations aren’t the only one discussing the fate of print. The government felt that this issue was vital enough to hold a hearing on the matter in May of 2009. It was chaired by John Kerry and experts of all stripes were called in to talk about what was happening to the newspaper and what, if anything, should be done to save it.
One of those experts was David Simon, creator of the hit television show “The Wire,” and former journalist for The Baltimore Sun. In 2004 he said he left journalism because he felt it didn’t do enough, “One of the sad things about contemporary journalism is that it actually matters very little. The world now is almost inured to the power of journalism. The best journalism would manage to outrage people. And people are less and less inclined to outrage . . . I’ve become increasingly cynical about the ability of daily journalism to effect any kind of meaningful change. I was pretty dubious about it when I was a journalist, but now I think it’s remarkably ineffectual,” but at the hearing he spoke out in defense of journalists stating,
From the Captains of the newspaper industry, you may hear a certain martyrology, a claim that they were heroically serving democracy only to be undone by a cataclysmic shift in technology. For those speaking for New Media, weblogs and that which goes Twitter, you will be treated with assurances that American journalism has a perfectly fine future online and that a great democratization is taking place. Well, a plague on both their houses. High end journalism is dying in America, and unless a new economic model is achieved it will not be reborn on the web or anywhere else.
He goes onto talk about one of the major weaknesses of news media, the fact that they don’t do first generation reporting. The web is a wonderful aggregator, and those who know how to use it well can generate a great deal of insight from a variety of freely available sources, however, except in the cases of tech journalism, where high-level bloggers fly out to conferences on an almost weekly basis, journalists on the web spend more time crafting news than they do excavating it. What David fears is that if newspapers die, there will be no one left to do the digging.
David doesn’t let newspapers off of the hook, he points out a fundamental flaw in the industry that goes beyond the web, the fact that when newspapers began to consolidate they, as Phil Bronstein said in the last segment, lost touch with the people they were trying to serve, “What does a newspaper executive in California care about what happens in Baltimore?”
He makes a point.
To narrow the problem facing newspapers to a change in medium is myopic, complacency and hubris had as much to do with the fall as anything that the Internet did.
While it’s difficult to say whether they would have been able to continue seeing record revenue had the web gone in a different direction is hard to tell, but if history teaches us anything it’s that complacency in business will almost always lead to death.