Are newspapers finished?

The Economist has an opinion piece this week on the death of the newspaper. In it, there’s a very rosy view of the difference the citizen journalist makes to the availability of news:

In addition, a new force of “citizen” journalists and bloggers is itching to hold politicians to account. The web has opened the closed world of professional editors and reporters to anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection. Several companies have been chastened by amateur postings—of flames erupting from Dell’s laptops or of cable-TV repairmen asleep on the sofa. Each blogger is capable of bias and slander, but, taken as a group, bloggers offer the searcher after truth boundless material to chew over. Of course, the internet panders to closed minds; but so has much of the press.

For hard-news reporting—as opposed to comment—the results of net journalism have admittedly been limited. Most bloggers operate from their armchairs, not the frontline, and citizen journalists tend to stick to local matters. But it is still early days. New online models will spring up as papers retreat. One non-profit group, NewAssignment.Net, plans to combine the work of amateurs and professionals to produce investigative stories on the internet. Aptly, $10,000 of cash for the project has come from Craig Newmark, of Craigslist, a group of free classified-advertisement websites that has probably done more than anything to destroy newspapers’ income.

It’s quite a contrast with the New Yorker article by Nicholas Lemann a couple of weeks ago, which was very negative about any real impact the blogging world might have on the work of real news gathering:

“Citizen journalists are supposedly inspired amateurs who find out what’s going on in the places where they live and work, and who bring us a fuller, richer picture of the world than we get from familiar news organizations, while sparing us the pomposity and preening that journalists often display.

That’s the catechism, but what has citizen journalism actually brought us? It’s a difficult question, in part because many of the truest believers are very good at making life unpleasant for doubters, through relentless sneering. 

The Internet is not unfriendly to reporting; potentially, it is the best reporting medium ever invented. A few places, like the site on Yahoo! operated by Kevin Sites, consistently offer good journalism that has a distinctly Internet, rather than repurposed, feeling. To keep pushing in that direction, though, requires that we hold up original reporting as a virtue and use the Internet to find new ways of presenting fresh material—which, inescapably, will wind up being produced by people who do that full time, not “citizens” with day jobs.

 Apart from some sensitivity to a full on attack from bloggers, (and hence pre-emptive attack on their “sneering”, I think Lemann makes some valid points.

I read blogs for the opinion, not for the fact. If I want hard news, I generally go to a genuine news source for it, as finding it takes hard graft, which people have to spend real time to do.

Probably the closest I’ve come to reading blogs for facts has been the realclimate blog, which is written by climate scientists.  But even in areas that are not well served by newspapers (such as the work life balance articles I read obsessively) good bloggers generally take something from the real media and write about it – sometimes more fact, but often an insightful opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. I love blogs. My life is richer because of them. But they’re a new medium, not a replacement of an old one. On this one, I’m on the New Yorker’s side.

  1 comment for “Are newspapers finished?

  1. August 31, 2006 at 9:10 am

    Oh, I agree. My favorite blogs are those in which a person’s personal experience builds upon a topic which interests me. I don’t think that person is giving me unbiased news — but they’re giving life to the drier events I see in the paper.

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