Comments on

Open Bars

Original entry posted: Mon Jul 27 23:52:36 2009

Krystian Majewski @ Tue Jul 28 06:36:44 2009 EST

Ok we clearly disagree on the journalism subject. Because I found Anderson's response quite successful and Gladwell's critique curiously clueless.

I guess we do agree on what good journalism is. However, we strongly disagree with the following point:

"For good journalism, you have to pay people."


Paying people to do a certain job, won't make them do that job better. The quality of the work of a person depends on may factors. The single most important is their intrinsic motivation - how motivated they themselves are to do that work.

Over the years I grew weary of the kind of work "professional" journalists produce. For all their experience and knowledge, they are generalists working on a deadline in a highly competitive environment. The rarely have a genuine interest or deep experience with the subject they treat. The often do very broad treatments, provide little context, try to flesh out the flashy but hollow bits and quickly move on to the next topic. It becomes evident if you stumble across an articles on a Topic you happen to be an expert in. This is also my experience from being interviewed by and reading interviews done by "professional" journalists. It's pathetic. Hushed run-troughs of standardized questions aimed at eliciting sound bites and quotes rather than digging into a topic. An waste of time for everybody involved: the people being interviewed, the journalists and the readers. And the worst thing is that there is a antigen to that antibody - the PR culture of big companies and celebrities aims at perfectly plugging into that workflow. This culture also is not interested in providing real content but to "get the job done" in the most efficient way. They are paid after all.

For all their narrow field of view, the geeky, specialized blogs are immune against all of that. They are people, who deeply care about the things they write about. It's those people's opinions I want to hear about. I know they are heavily biased and may be missing the big picture, but I am expecting that anyway. At least I can tell they are heavily invested and have no hidden, monetary agendas. And finally, if I disagree, I can just tell them. Or read other people telling them.

The Blogosphere, Twitter and Wikipedia are eliminating Journalism. There is nothing wrong or scary about it. What I find scary is every time I come back to the newspaper and realize that there are still people out there who digest those poor excuses for information and think they have learned something substantial by doing so.

Thomas @ Tue Jul 28 07:36:38 2009 EST

[Apologies for the domestic, US-centric nature of the examples ahead.]

It sounds like you've had some really bad experiences with journalists. I'm sorry to hear that. For specialty press, you may be right. Certainly the gaming press, in my opinion, could well be replaced by bloggers and I'd largely remain unaffected.

Where we disagree is basically a square-rectangle domain problem: you're saying, effectively, look at all the bad journalists who get paid! And I agree, many bad journalists are inexplicably employed. But that's not my point. I'm not saying all paid journalists are good, I'm saying all good journalists are paid. And I certainly believe that's true.

In mainstream journalism--the investigative, economic, and metro beats, to pick three--those will not be replaced by amateurs. Amateur bloggers did not uncover the NSA wiretapping program, or Cheney's assassination program, or the gross misuse of finance by AIG and Goldman Sachs. Those are all stories that required the kind of long, tedious grunt work that bloggers (understandably) do not put in. That's not even a criticism of bloggers, per se, but an acknowledgement that it's really hard to do good work part-time. I've done freelance and now I've done full-time journalism, and the difference is night and day.

It doesn't help that the amount of coverage has declined so far. I was talking to someone the other day about Congressional coverage, and she said that there used to be three reporters on the Hill at all times just to cover the North Dakota delegation. Three reporters! For the boring Dakota! There's nothing like that now. And that gap is certainly not being filled by unpaid media. As David Simon has said, the day we see a Huffington Post writer hanging out at Baltimore zoning board meeting, I'll believe it.

Simon recently argued in the Columbia Journalism Review for subscription-only news, incidentally. And although it may sound ludicrous, I think his point should probably be treated with more respect than it's gotten. But then, I'm biased: I work for a profitable, subscription-only publication.

To end on a productive note, I believe the biggest flaw in Anderson's argument is his refusal to engage with journalism and policy--namely, the public option. He leaves out the possibility of publicly-funded news, either via donations (NPR) or government tax (BBC). This is due, I think, to an American blind spot when it comes to corporations: when they shift the cost, it's "free." When the government does it, it's robbery and taxation. But if we agree that good journalism plays an essential civic role for democracy, I think that public news organizations deserve more attention.

pseudonymous @ Tue Jul 28 17:03:56 2009 EST

I've really enjoyed this multi-post skewering from my FREE Google Reader, and I think the problem with Anderson's book is this: just because something doesn't have a price doesn't mean it doesn't have a cost.

When you raise the issues of "free for whom?" (racial disparities in access to the "free" goods Anderson mentions) and "why don't we share the costs?" (the public option - we all share the costs of making valuable public goods "free"), I found your critique the most compelling.

It's a lazy, trend-seeking, techno-libertarian, cyber-selfish visioning of an all-too-inevitable future where some of us get to consume ever-cheaper goods forever.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but this is wired nihilism.

Pollxn Discussion Engine