Testimony on the State of the Media

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In a recent post you might remember me pointing to the words of The Wire creator and former Baltimore journalist David Simon as he was interviewed on Bill Moyer’s program.  You might also remember that I’m a huge, let’s be honest, FAN, of Simon as I find the Wire to be one imperfect and completely accurate mirror of how our society and our world functions.

So it might come as a surprise and certainly ironic when I tell you I hated David Simon’s testimony before US Congress during the recent session on the state of the media industry. Hmm, saying I hated it is kind of silly, the basic fact is that based on Simon’s words before congress, I don’t agree and would argue some of his statements/facts.

I actually plan to develop my response further, possibly putting it out as a video entry, but for now I wanted to begin to break-down what problem I have with Simon’s words and to properly lay out my own responses.

So here’s about the moment where one of my hero’s of television writing lost me:

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. The Internet is a marvelous tool, and clearly it is the information delivery system of our future. But thus far it does not deliver much first generation reporting. Instead, it leeches that reporting from mainstream news publications whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth.

That high end journalism is dying, no one can argue. At least when it comes to the kind of high end journalism that was carried out by investigative reporters who were paid a professional wage and kept on staff at respected newspapers.

First generation reporting. Now here it is my turn to testify. If by first generation reporting, we mean first hand gathering of facts and persuit of information on a topic or theme, then we have lots of it on the internet. YES, we do. I can generate a list right now, but I’d rather continue with this statement.  The type of first generation reporting delivered by the internet is not being produced by the same people who used to; the big name newspaper, the media corporation, the full time on staff journalist; these are not necessarily the producers anymore.  The producers of today’s internet first-generation reporting, you’ve probably never heard of. It isn’t necessarily your fault, as their content is buried in the search engine among the mountains of other people and information out there. These producers are often, though not always, part-timers, splitting the time they take for content creation and investigation, with side jobs that help fund their journalism.  These producers aren’t from the traditional schools and institutions of journalism; they may have never set foot in the halls of a prestigous newspaper. They may not have even majored in journalism at university.  It is even possible that they are the type of writers that don’t capitalize or use punctuation as perfectly as their journalistic ancestors.

But there commitment can be just as great, no, even greater then that of those who once had cushy work contracts and health insurance plans.  Their passion for seeking the truth and being crtical of power is as strong as any journalists that came before them.  Again, that passion, it could be argued, probably has to be stronger as there is no promise of a paycheck or the glory that traditional journalists could count on.

But again, you wouldn’t have heard about them.  They are in Baghdad, in Nairobi, in Moscow and beyond. They may not do things in the style or method you see as “best practices for journalism” but their goal is the same. Their method for delivery is the internet, and they’re out there working as you read this.

Now the fact that you’re unlikely to have heard from them, is one of many that truely does warrant concern. Its not that good journalism can’t come from independent net based journalists, the problem is that the world doesn’t value this work in the right way. It doesn’t get funded. It doesn’t get recognized. It doesn’t have the institutional support and respect that the investigative reporters of the old days had. That is more than sad, it is a matter of concern that should indeed be remedied.

But to say the internet- “leeches that reporting from mainstream news publications whereupon aggregating websites and bloggers contribute little more than repetition, commentary and froth.”, that is simply your opinion and clearly your limited exposure to all that is going on via the internet. Not to say you shouldn’t be crticial of what is happening, and surely recommend ways to preserve traditional reporting- go for it.  But don’t toss everything we the journalists of the internet are doing under the bus, as there is definitely more going on here than you realize.

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