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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Newspapers Suck

Mark Cuban's blog recently had a post asking
Who has higher editorial and reporting standards. Your typical fulltime blogger, or the NY Times ?

Who puts more effort into researching their articles ?

Who conveys more depth ?

I was originally going to comment over there, but the comment got sort of uh... larger than I had intended. The pain of being at work on a Sunday, I suppose.

Anyway, as I see it, two of the primary differences between the Blog world and the newspaper world are sources and specialization.

Your run-of-the-mill newspaper columnist is going to go mostly to primary sources from whom they can get quotes, which are the gold-standard of the print world. The flip of this is, ask your Daily Kos or whomever how they get most of their information, and it's typically Google or another search engine - which has the benefit of allowing for the uninitiated to gain information while at the same time keeping those "in-the-know" from wasting time. This isn't to say that a blogger will always cite the correct sources, but at least in pure potential, the internet as a medium has the decicive advantage. The NYT can never reproduce the entire text of the PATRIOT act, nor can they hyperlink to page A26 - so columnists, constrained by space, have to ask 'experts' to summarize.

This leads to a number of interesting structural differences. Bloggers tend, on the whole, to be significantly worse writers. Without having an editor, and being able to type something up and post in instantly is partially to blame - but without necessitating economy of diction, 'concice' is not a word in the normal bloggers' dictionary. (On the other hand, 'blogger' is not a word in the Meriam-Webster dictionary.) This also allows for more depth, even if accompanied by a lot of waste.

Of course, the difference in sources also forces one to ask whether or not the blog world could exist without newspapers generating these quotes and such, though to this point, the practical difference between - say - a White House press Q&A and a White House press release are negligible. Fourty years after Watergate, anyone political has generated the savvy to, at best, avoid giving up information they don't want released via press inquiry, and at worst, to use the press as a de-facto propaganda machine. There even seems to be a disadvantage to having the press report as though the information they've recieved is not from a biased source - namely, that people are more likely to believe it is impartial. At least if a senator releases their own statements via a press office, and people are forced to read it as a statement from the individual rather than supported in normative context by a third party like the NYT, people's skepticism might kick in a little harder. In all, it seems like very little actual investigative reporting is going on by newspapers that is not moreso being done by people who do not have press credentials, as such.

The other difference is specialization. Due to expediency, even the most major of newspapers is going to rely upon a limited stable of people to write articles. So while you might get a guy like Friedman, who can concentrate on lay-economics, you'll never get a traditional newspaper that has an array of specialists from every field writing regularly. You may get the occaisional guest editorial, but generally speaking, this is the exception and not the rule. So what you get in newspapers tends to be a person who can get a basic grasp of a topic, and make maybe a couple of comments that the uninitiated will find interesting. On the other hand, a print journalist is less likely than a blogger to read through an entire 200-page trade document and give specific legal analysis. A quarterly scholarly journal, yes. WashPo, not so much. Blogs regularly do this, though.

Compare SCOTUSblog to the legal reporters from the Chicago Tribune, or even one of the DC papers. The difference in their reporting is palpable: SCOTUSblog is more in-depth, better informed, and gives a much more accurate picture of what is going on. The main advantage traditional journalists enjoyed in the past was their access - something that is being overtaken by many bloggers (the Gawker Medias of the world), and is trumped by insider blogging.

Overall, the problem seems to be finding the good blogs, and with blog-specific searches improving, that is a diminishing problem. While I don't want to sound like the "YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED" voices on the internet, I do think that print journalism is going to have to change more than they have, and honestly, I think that the two that exemplify what I see happening in the future are the New York Times Insider and The Economist. The two paths that print have to take in order to maintain market share are The Celebrity and The Specialist. The former is a subscription service where, for a monthy fee, you can read Maureen Dowd try to come up with cute nicknames for people. It relies on the idea that people care what people whose names they recognize have to say more than they care about the substance of the response. (ESPN also has an Insider, which I subscribe to largely because I have no idea how to unsubscribe at this point) The latter is a model of paying people who would not normally dispense their advice for free to do so to paying customers.

Overall, the days of needing more than the AP wire, the internet, and a TV seem to be about at their end. Daily circulation papers are reducing to a niche market, and will eventually be obsolete. NYT/Post beginning blogs for their reporters is just a recognition of that fact.

cranked out at 11:42 AM | |

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