Journalist-free journalism

After re-reading Lemann’s NYer article, and the back-and-forth at “Comment is Free” I’m left wondering what Lemann has offered us. His best contributions come in the concluding paragraphs and seem painfully obvious: that the internet is “potentially…the best reporting medium ever invented” and that more reporters should move there.

Prior to that, he dismisses “hyper-local” blogs for being too “small and specialized.” But size wasn’t a consideration when he sought to chop the myth of the monolithic MSM, so favored by bloggers, down to its appropriate size. I was struck by the strange nostalgia for late-20th C. journalism in this graph:

“What the prophets of Internet journalism believe themselves to be fighting against – journalism in the hands of an enthroned few, who speak in a voice of phony, unearned authority to the passive masses – is, as a historical phenomenon, mainly a straw man. Even after the Second World War, some American cities still had several furiously battling papers, on the model of “The Front Page.” There were always small political magazines of all persuasions, and books written in the spirit of the old pamphlets, and, later in the twentieth century, alternative weeklies and dissenting journalists like I. F. Stone.”

Some American cities? Small political magazines? Books? Alternative weeklies? No offense to I.F. Stone, but the presence of a few dissenting voices does not a healthy, diversified media environment make. In attacking the bloggers’ strawman, Lemann constructs his own.

As Lemann suggests in his CiF post, perhaps GSJ students shouldn’t be biting into these weighty future-of-the-business issues. Perhaps we should be focussed exclusively on learning the craft.

“We do not focus on the business side of journalism in the way that Jarvis would like us to. That is partly because the founder of the school, Joseph Pulitzer, though a genius at business himself, insisted that this should not be a school of publishing. It is partly because our students want to be reporters after they leave, and mainly get jobs as reporters.”

Fair enough. But, then, he goes on:

“We will, however, in just a few months launch an executive leadership program, and its participants – top managers of news organisations – will spend a lot of their time here thinking about how journalism can meet its economic challenges.”

Do we really need another confab of executives generating lists of lessons learned and what the kids seem to want? Is that what will push journalism forward? Or, might it be useful to get the people who will bring professional reporting to the Internet to start thinking about what that means?


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