Posted by: Bill | January 5, 2009

On Blogging and Newspapers

A few days ago, the WSJ published an Op-Ed (possible sub. required) by Paul Mulshine that had some unkind things to say about bloggers. Mr. Mulshine works for the Newark Star-Ledger and is lamenting the changes going on in the world of journalism. He had the potential to make some valid points regarding a newspaper’s superior (at least right now) resources when it comes to reporting on mundane local politics or detailed investigations in which reporters devote scores or even hundreds of hours.

Unfortunately, he wastes some of his valuable space basically whining about the changes his industry is undergoing and declaring that “Millions of American can’t even pronounce “pundit,” or spell it for that matter.”

(Excuse me for a few minutes while I look up the word “pundit” and learn how to pronounce it.)

Mr. Mulshine specifically talks about Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) and, not surprisingly, Reynolds responds. He points out how most bloggers are not journalists and don’t pretend to be. They are the thing that Mulshine is complaining about the most (pundits). This sounded about right to me. I will never pretend to be an actual reporter (though I think I would enjoy it…at least the research part of it).

This brings me to the future of the newspaper industry. Most are losing money…lots of it. The New York Times is in big financial trouble. While yes, this makes me smile sometimes, I don’t think it will be disappearing any time soon, even if Rupert Murdoch wishes the WSJ to replace it (long Atlantic Monthly article). Matthew Iglesias offers several strong insights on the newspaper business and how we arrived at the status quo. As physical newspapers decline, something needs to fill the void and I do not want it to be more viewers of local and national news networks.

Online is the obvious answer, but generating enough revenue to retain the resources needed to put out the type of product readers like me are looking for is not feasible right now. Here are more thoughts from Instapundit on how a local paper and bloggers can work well together. I don’t believe this will be quite enough revenue. This article from the Rocky Mountain News is an example of an interesting model with a huge drawback. In short, let a private organization do the legwork and most of the writing for an article. The news organization pays them very little or nothing. As the article notes, the problem here is obvious as you are relying on the submitting organization to be fair and impartial.

The ProPublica article in The Post was slanted, sly and opaque. For example, we are told, “In one case, a house exploded” because of nearby hydraulic fracturing. Where was the house? Who determined that hydraulic fracturing was the cause? ProPublica does not say.

It’s obvious I don’t have any good answers here right now, but I am very interested in where things are going so that I may invest…err…be ready as changes come to an industry that is fundamental to a vibrant democracy.

Last, regarding Matt’s point #5 (regarding a burrito), I wonder if he was headed here. I really need to take a field trip there one of these days.

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Responses

  1. NPR did an interview with the guy who founded the “Intellectual Property” branch of Berkley Law School. He’s currently setting up a similar branch at Harvard.
    He had some interesting things to say about newspapers vs. blogs…

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98591002

  2. The exploding house story is pretty easily traced down. I reported on it way back when it happened, before the Pro Publica article. The oil and gas industry is big on claiming “there is no proof” but the fact is that the issues with exploding houses or drilling toxins in water didn’t ocur until the drilling started.

    Big business owns much of the news. When decisions about what gets reported and how come from the business office, reporters are left powerless to get the news out. We definately need a new model for our news.

  3. Mr. Lessig is pretty famous these days. He has quite the devoted following in the blogging world. I even heard his name mentioned as potentially being nominated to help fun the FCC. I actually don’t know much about him though and will definitely listen to the story.


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